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Glencore buys major stake in troubled Aussie iron ore miner

Atlas Iron’s Mt Webber operation. (Image courtesy of Atlas Iron)

Mining and commodities trader giant Glencore (LO:GLEN) became Monday the top shareholder of troubled Australian junior miner Atlas Iron (ASX:AGO) after grabbing 8.47% of the company.

The acquisition, valued at about $15.8 million or $0.021 per share, gives Glencore direct exposure to production of iron ore, which experienced record low prices in 2015, but that has recovered substantially so far this year.

For years, Glencore has acted as an intermediary in buying and selling iron ore for third parties, avoiding — until now — the production side of the sector.

Since 2008, the Swiss company has acted as an intermediary in buying and selling iron ore for third parties. However, it has avoided — either by choice or circumstances — the production side of the sector, which is dominated by Vale (NYSE:VALE), Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) and BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP).

Glencore subsidiary Maru Sky had acquired a portion of Atlas Iron’s debt earlier this year as the junior miner negotiated with creditors to fend off collapse brought on by weak iron ore prices.

On Monday, Maru Sky notified the Australian Securities Exchange that it had converted its debt ownership for 8.47% in equity, making it the main shareholder. The next biggest is Commonwealth Bank of Australia with 6.36%.

Atlas Iron began mothballing most of its mines last year as the cost of extracting the ore was greater than the price on the global market.

But last month it secured shareholder support for a crucial debt restructure, which it said would enable it to stave off the threat of voluntary administration.

The Pilbara miner plans to reduce its total loan debt from $267 million to $135 million by April 2021.