RIO Sells Its Alcan Bid

Rio Tinto has flagged that it is looking at selling some of its business units after it completed the $US38.1 ($44 billion) billion acquisition of Alcan.

Naturally, that's created some speculation that operations like diamonds may go, and even the industrial minerals business.

Core businesses would be aluminium and alumina (naturally), iron ore, copper, coking and thermal coal, all of which are in strong demand around the world.

The diamond business isn't dependant on the rising level of demand from the likes of China or India (but is dependant on rising income levels in those and other countries).

Industrial minerals chemicals generated $US243 million in net earnings, and diamonds $US205 million.

They were the smallest of the company's business units. Aluminium contributed more than $US700 million while iron ore and copper were multi-billion dollar earners and will generate the cash flow to attack the debt to be taken on for the Alcan deal.

In terms of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, the two businesses contributed around $US1 billion of the more than $US12 billion earned by Rio in 2006.

Rio has already flagged selling Alcan's packaging business to concentrate on upstream bauxite, alumina and metal production.

Analysts claim this business alone could sell for $US5 billion to $US6 billion. The diamonds and industrial chemicals would go close to matching that figure.

Analysts say the sale of the three businesses could pay down that $40 billion in debt by around a quarter to a third, depending on how much is sold and how it is sold.

Rio's debt-to-equity ratio will increase to 64 per cent if the bid completes successfully.

Rio has been placed on credit watch negative by rating agencies Moody's and Fitch because it plans to use debt to finance the deal, with its gearing rising to more than 60 per cent.

Rio's Alcan deal has prompted worries amongst unionists who want Canada's Conservative government to ensure job security.

Canadian Auto Workers union President Buzz Hargrove was quoted in Canadian news media as demanding that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government meet obligations to workers and communities in the case of foreign takeovers.

Hargrove, whose union backed the now opposition Liberals (which are a bit like the ALP in Australia) in the most recent Federal election, said the Conservative government was obliged to review the impact of the proposed takeover and get binding commitments that protect workers, as did Canadian Auto Workers director in Quebec, Luc Desnoyers.

The CAW represents 5,000 at Alcan's operations in Quebec and British Columbia.


Rio's CEO Tom Albanese says the company's "robust cash flows" will help pare down the debt to be taken on in the Alcan buy.

"We have a strong, robust set of cash flows within Rio Tinto, with cash generated from operations running at roughly $1 billion a month," Mr Albanese told ABC's Inside Business program yesterday.

Mr Albanese defended the price paid for Alcan, which some analysts commented was expensive, saying the asset was "a first-class, tier-one asset".

"There aren't many of them out in the mining sector and in the market right now," he said.

With Alcan in Rio's stable, the business would prosper from the economic growth of China and India.

India's growth was five years behind China's, but gross domestic product in both countries was expected to increase at the robust level of almost nine per cent annually until 2015, he said.

"In a metal like aluminium, which is very much going to benefit as we see China continue to grow, we have found that confluence point where we are able to provide an offer which fully met the needs of the Alcan shareholders, but was in the mantra of value that we have within Rio Tinto and very much consistent and complimentary with our strategy," he said.

Mr Albanese said an important aspect of the acquisition was Alcan's hydro power contracts.

"I think it was very important in our recognition that the access to long-term, low-cost, sustainable energy with essentially a zero-carbon footprint, very much puts the Alcan aluminium production in a competitive advantage," he said.

About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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