Pilbara Minerals reveals plan to buy Altura for $175m

Altura’s hard-rock open pit lithium mine in Western Australia began commercial operations in 2019. (Image courtesy of Altura.)

Australian lithium producer Pilbara Minerals (ASX: PLS) said on Wednesday it had signed a conditional agreement with a group of lenders to buy embattled rival Altura Mining for about $175 million.

The West Perth-based miner would pay 155 million upfront and in cash. It would also pay about $20 million for the shares in Altura Lithium Operations upon successful completion of the deal.

Pilbara operates the Pilgangoora mine adjacent to Altura’s project and extracts lithium spodumene from the same ore body

The cash portion will be mostly funded through future equity capital raising of about A$240 million ($171m), backed by AustralianSuper, the country’s largest pension fund, and Resource Capital Funds.

The investment isn’t AusSuper’s first in the lithium sector. The fund also owns a stake in ASX-listed Argentinean Orocobre (ASX: ORE) and has almost 10% of Piedmont Lithium Limited (ASX: PLL).

Pilbara has also secured a right to match any competing proposal for Altura Mining and negotiated a break fee should the lenders accept a competing proposal.

The company’s agreement with the senior secured loan noteholders of Altura comes after the targeted miner entered administration on Tuesday.

Prices and virus

Altura said the impact of the coronavirus pandemic had aggravated the effects on its bottom line of a prolonged period of low lithium prices.

Pilbara said the conditional deal provides it with a path to potentially acquire Altura’s lithium project through the purchase of shares in Altura Lithium Operations.

Pilbara operates the Pilgangoora mine adjacent to Altura’s project and extracts lithium spodumene from the same ore body, 100km south of Port Hedland.

If successful, the acquisition of Altura would cement Pilbara Minerals’ position as the biggest pure-play ASX-listed lithium company by value, managing director and chief executive Ken Brinsden said in the statement.

The executive also said the move would provide his company with strong leverage to the expected recovery in lithium prices.

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