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Coal India nears coking coal asset acquisition in Australia

Avishek Rakshit/Kolkata 14 Sep 17 | 06:53 AM
Related to : Coal India Ltd
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On the lookout for acquisition of coking coal assets abroad, government-owned Coal India is in an advanced stage of talks with an Australian coal mining company based out of Queensland, where it plans to acquire substantial stake.

In this regard, Coal India had floated a closed tender for empanelled merchant bankers of which PwC and Ernst & Young have shown interest, to carry the transaction forward.

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"The Australian company had asked us to revert after appointing a merchant banker and the tender to select one is in an advanced stage," a senior Coal India official told Business Standard. He said they would take a "substantial stake", most likely 20-25 per cent at least. Ad hoc budget of Rs 6,000 crore has been okayed, for now, to take the transaction forward.

Without revealing the name of the Australian miner, Coal India sources said the former has six licenses for mining under the application stage and one licence had been granted to it by the Australian authorities.

For taking the equity stake, Coal India will have to commit a minimum purchase of coking coal every year from the Australian company. "At this point, we are in talks with steel companies for back-end tie-up. If we give a minimum off-take commitment to the Australian firm, we have to sell it in India. Unless we have a back-end tie in place, the model won't make much sense," the official said.

The proposed agreement includes a technology transfer clause, from which Coal India hopes to improvise its own Indian mining operations in open cast mines.

A second official of Coal India said it had got a ministerial nod with the proposal sometime earlier.

A sector analyst says landed coking coal prices are near $100 a tonne and another $8-10 needs to be spent by the buyer to transport it from the ports. "Coal India has to offer coking coal at prices below the landed cost and might also have to discount loading and transportation charges if it wishes to secure a back-end commitment from a steel firm," an analyst with Reliance Securities told this publication.

Also, Coal India has to secure a minimum 12 per cent return on capital for the investment to be made in the Australian company, a pre-requisite for offshore expansion by Indian government-owned firms, says the analyst. 

A second analyst says although the government is trying to minimise coal import (these fell from 217.8 million tonnes in 2014-15 to 204 mt in 2015-16 and to 191 mt in 2016-17), India will continue to rely on this route, as quality coking coal is absent in this country.

Around 30 per cent of the 50-60 mt annual demand for coking coal is met by domestic supply. The rest is catered from import, mainly from Indonesia, Australia and South Africa. Estimates suggest that by 2030, the steel sector will be demanding 180 mt of coking coal a year, when steel production is targeted to reach 300 mt.

In August last year, Coal India signed a memorandum of understanding with the South African government's African Exploration Mining and Corporation to identify, acquire, explore and develop coal assets, namely, the coking variant, in South Africa. However, the deal got stuck at South Africa's end.

Also, in Mozambique, which remained on Coal India's radar until 2015, the company had to relinquish 2/3rd of its 224 sq km area, as coal seams could not be found. Now, an exit route from that country is being discussed.

In its Australian venture before, Coal India had tried for a 10 per cent stake in Peabody Energy in February 2011; however, the deal finally didn't work out.

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