Sirius Minerals’ last-minute attempt to avoid Anglo takeover fails

Sirius is midway through building its Woodsmith fertilizer mine beneath the North York Moors national park. (Image courtesy of Sirius Minerals.)

Sirius Minerals (LON:SXX), the British junior struggling to build a huge fertilizer mine beneath the North Yorks Moors national park, revealed on Friday it had been studying an alternate deal to the planned takeover by Anglo American (LON:AAL), adding that it had fallen through.

The fertilizer company evaluated over the past week a plan to raise $680 million put forward by a consortium of financial investors, but talks didn’t lead to deal. Unless shareholders approve Anglo American’s £405 million (about $524m) offer, the company is at risk of being placed by the board into administration or liquidation, Sirius said in a statement.

Sirius says a takeover by Anglo American the only feasible option

The London-based developer once again called investors to back Anglo’s takeover proposal, as all attempts to find bank financing to complete its Woodsmith fertilizer project have failed.

Anglo’s offer of 5.5p a share is equivalent to one-third more than the targeted company’s market value the day before the proposed takeover was made public.

Sirius was worth more than $2.3 billion 18 months ago, before announcing in September its funding plans had failed, adding it only had enough cash to last another six months. 

The company has already raised £920 million ($1.2 billion) to develop Woodsmith and received the backing of thousands of local retail investors, but needs a further $3.8 billion to turn it into the world’s biggest producer of polyhalite, a multi-nutrient fertilizer.

Long time coming

Anglo’s lifeline didn’t come out of the blue. The major, which is looking to retreat from thermal coal, has hinted the bid for Sirius Minerals had been in the works for months.

“We are unashamedly transitioning our portfolio to later cycle products that we believe the world will need as it goes forward,” chief financial officer, Stephen Pearce, said on a call last month.

The executive noted Anglo had identified the project as being of potential interest “some time ago” due to its quality in terms of scale, resources and costs.

The $3.8bn Woodsmith project is expected to produce around 10 million tonnes per year of polyhalite, a multi-nutrient fertilizer

If successful, the takeover would mark a comeback to the fertilizer sector for Anglo, which owned some phosphate assets in the past but in recent years has focused on “four pillars” — copper, iron ore, diamonds and platinum.

It would also add a second major project to Anglo’s $5bn Quellaveco copper mine in Peru, at a time when most rivals are reluctant to expand.

“We fundamentally believe part of our responsibility is to keep an eye on growth over all the aspects of different time frames,” Pearce added.

The Woodsmith mine, poised to be one of the world’s largest in terms of the amount of resources extracted, is set to generate an initial 10 million tonnes per year of polyhalite, a multi-nutrient fertilizer, containing four of the six key elements needed for plant growth — potassium, sulphur, magnesium and calcium.

Sirius’ shareholders will vote on whether or not to accept Anglo’s lifeline on March 3.

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