EU inquiry into $170bn Billiton bid for Rio Tinto


A PROPOSED $170 billion takeover of mining firm Rio Tinto by Australia’s BHP Billiton hit a roadblock last night when European competition regulators announced an in-depth inquiry into the deal after initial investigations raised “serious doubts”.

Neelie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner, warned that a recent surge in commodity prices had significantly affected industries buying commodities produced by the two companies. “In this very sensitive context any change making the situation worse could be extremely harmful,” she said.

“Therefore the [European] Commission will pay particular attention to ensure that this takeover does not adversely affect competition in Europe.”

The commission said the main commodities at stake in its investigation, which can now run until November 11th, were iron ore, coal, uranium, aluminium and mineral sands. It said a preliminary investigation found that after the takeover, the merged company would hold “a significant share” of iron ore supplies and that its share, plus that of its next competitor, would amount to a “very large part of iron ore supplies”.

Steelmakers opposed to the deal argue that the merger would mean up to 80 per cent of the world seaborne trade in iron ore could be in just two companies’ hands, with significant potential implications for pricing power.

The commission also said that the proposed deal would reinforce BHP Billiton’s position in metallurgical coal, “with smaller competitors far behind . . . By increasing the new entity’s market power in iron ore and metallurgical coal, there is a serious risk that the planned takeover could have a negative impact on the outcome of price negotiations with steel customers,” the commission said. – (Financial Times service)