First Quantum quashes Rio rumor, says Jiangxi no threat

Kansanshi is the largest copper mine by output in Zambia and is 20% owned by ZCCM-IH, with the balance owned by First Quantum Minerals. (Image courtesy of First Quantum Minerals)

First Quantum Minerals Ltd. says it hasn’t received any takeover approaches — including from Rio Tinto Group — since it last refuted “speculation” it had been in talks about a bid in September.

The company’s president said that while executives were caught off guard by this week’s share purchase by Jiangxi Copper Co., there’s no chance that will lead to a takeover bid either.

The Vancouver-based miner has been in talks with Jiangxi for roughly a year about selling a minority stake in its Zambian operations to the Chinese company

The Vancouver-based miner has been in talks with Jiangxi for roughly a year about selling a minority stake in its Zambian operations to the Chinese company, but there’s no deal on the table yet, Clive Newall said Tuesday in a phone interview.

“It came as a bit of a surprise when they appeared on the shareholder register, but their intentions still seem to be genuine and we’re continuing our discussions,” Newall said of the report this week that Jiangxi paid $1.1 billion to acquire an 18% stake in First Quantum.

First Quantum’s shares extended losses to an intraday low of C$13.03, down 3.6%, following the comments. The stock fell 2.7% Tuesday to close at C$13.15 in Toronto.

Jiangxi initially approached the Canada-based miner about acquiring a minority stake in its Zambian assets, Newall said. As part of those talks, the company required Jiangxi to sign a non-disclosure agreement that restricts it from buying more than 20% of First Quantum’s shares, he said.

‘Couple of years’

The share-buying restriction won’t expire for “at least a couple of years” and was negotiated to eliminate any possibility of a takeover play by the Chinese miner, he said. “We wanted to make sure they couldn’t do that by restricting the number of shares to 20%.”

First Quantum has been the subject of takeover speculation, including the possibility it could be a target for Rio. Newall refused to discuss Rio directly but said the talk is just “scuttlebutt” and the company hasn’t received any takeover interest, from any company, since September when it previously denied takeover interest.

On Monday, a Rio spokesman had no comment on the matter.

‘No great desire’

In September, First Quantum said “there has been speculation of a takeover bid.” It added that it “has not engaged in any discussions regarding a take-over bid or other change of control transaction and has no knowledge of potential take-over bids, change of control transactions or proposals.”

If someone were to make a takeover play for the company “we would resist,” Newall said in the interview Tuesday. “There’s no great desire to be taken over, but under the circumstances where you haven’t got much choice then it’s all about price,” he said. Nor is First Quantum interested in making any acquisitions as its focus for the next two to three years will be reducing debt by at least $2 billion.

The company also won’t be selling off assets, or majority stakes in assets, Newall said. “Our only intentions are to sell minority stakes for a variety of reasons: partly deleveraging and, in Zambia, to share some of the political risks with a partner,” he said.

Talks with Jiangxi over a minority purchase in Zambia are set to resume in the New Year, he said.

First Quantum controls the Kansanshi and Sentinel copper mines in Zambia, where it has been in protracted talks with the government over issues from royalty increases to the planned introduction of a sales tax. Its major focus for 2020 will be ramping up production at the giant Cobre Panama copper mine in the Central American country, Newall said.

(By Danielle Bochove)

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