Big Mick Davis and Goldman Sachs building takeover war chest

I want to build another mining company this big

Mick Davis, outgoing CEO of Xstrata post the $76 billion takeover by commodities traders Glencore, is already building an acquisitions war chest.

At the outset of what was then a merger negotiation 15 months ago, Davis was put forward as the leader of the combined group, but in a deal with the Qatari sovereign wealth fund to save the deal from collapse, Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg secured the top post for himself.

Davis is expected to stay on for a few months, but reports he has hired Goldman Sachs to help him raise a new fund that will buy stakes in mining assets.

55-year old ‘Big Mick’ built Xstrata over a decade from a company with 2,500 employees to a mining powerhouse with 70,000 workers in 20 countries through a series of billion dollar deals.

Davis should also be able assemble a crack team in short order. A number of senior execs from Xstrata are also heading for the door post merger after their $240 million golden handcuffs proposal was voted down.

The timing for Davis couldn’t be sweeter.

Most – make that almost all – mining company valuations have taken a beating over the past year and should Davis go for a blockbuster takeover right away he would find a sympathetic ears among shareholders (and many boards).

He could also cobble together assets from the vast number that’s available at the moment  – there’s hardly a major mining firm that has not embarked on an divestment programme in efforts to rein in runaway costs.

Rio Tinto’s new CEO has put in place a programme to cut at least $5 billion from its operations around the world, while BHP’s sale of Pinto Valley copper mine in the US to Capstone Mining last week has brought its divestitures to $5 billion.

Distressed assets are also available from companies like Ukrainian iron ore miner Ferrexpo and London-listed ENRC among others for much reduced prices.

The major’s diamond businesses have long been on the market, but gems and the gold sector – where the real bargains are at the moment – are probably not natural areas of expansion for Davis.

There are also a number of stalled or struggling projects like Vale’s Argentinian potash project, Vale and Rio Tinto’s Simandou iron in West Africa and coal projects in Mozambique which could prove attractive for those with strong stomachs.

China’s on a $40bn+ mining acquisition spree around the world that has not gone quite as well as it should and someone with the dealmaking chops and execution ability of Davis could be worth a lot to China.

Davis were seen in a number of roles in the mining world particularly as the top companies started to clean house.

But in the end none of the prestigious positions that became available went his way (or more likely he wasn’t interested) – Anglo American, BHP and Rio Tinto all opted for safe insider appointments.

Glasenberg and Davis cut their teeth in the industry working as a coal traders in Johannesburg during the 1980s, became close partners, but after the bitter takeover fight are said to be no longer speaking.