Battery blitz: ‘Twiggy’ Forrest fights BHP for Canadian nickel miner

World News

Mining billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has raised the stakes in a race with BHP to acquire Canadian nickel explorer Noront as demand for electric battery raw materials intensifies.

Wyloo Metals, wholly owned by Dr Forrest’s investment vehicle Tattarang, on Tuesday said it was seeking to outbid Australian mining giant BHP’s takeover of $C325 million ($353 million) for control of the company.

Fortescue founder Andrew “Twiggy Forrest’s privately owned Wyloo Metals has upped its bid to acquire a Canadian nickel miner.Credit:David Mariuz

Under Wyloo’s latest proposal, which increases its offer from C31.5¢ a share to C70¢ compared to BHP’s C55¢, Toronto-listed Noront would remain a publicly traded entity and Dr Forrest – the founder of iron ore giant Fortescue and one of Australia’s richest people – would become chairman.

The tussle for Noront is the latest sign of mining heavyweights’ accelerating efforts to secure supplies of electric battery raw materials such as nickel, copper and lithium ahead of an expected surge in demand from the electric vehicle revolution.

Noront has a significant claim in one of Canada’s largest potential mineral reserves, the largely undeveloped “Ring of Fire” region in northern Ontario.

The board of Noront earlier this month renewed its support for BHP’s proposal and recommended shareholders accept the offer.

However, Wyloo, which controls 37.5 per cent of Noront’s shares, has indicated it does not intend to sell its shares to BHP.

“Wyloo Metals didn’t make its cornerstone investment in Noront earlier this year to accept an offer that represents a fraction of the potential value of Noront’s Ring of Fire assets,” Wyloo chief executive Luca Giacovazzi said on Tuesday.

“We invested in Noront because it has the potential to be Canada’s next great mineral hub and produce the metals critical to decarbonising our planet.”

Although electric vehicles account for about 3 per cent of new sales, uptake is lifting in China, the United States and Europe, while governments are unleashing post-pandemic stimulus plans targeting transport electrification.

BHP has described 2020 as an “inflection point” in the electric vehicle revolution, as Elon Musk’s Tesla sold more than half a million battery-powered vehicles globally.Credit:Bloomberg

Analysts at resources consultancy Wood Mackenzie on Tuesday said they were forecasting global electric vehicle sales to vault past 6 million this year.

Share of electric passenger car sales had doubled in the six months to June 30 from the same time last year, they said, and now stood at 7 per cent globally.

“Policy measures passed by both regions for a green recovery from the COVID crisis appear to have a positive effect as far as the passenger transport sector is concerned,” Wood Mackenzie’s Ram Chandrasekaran said.

BHP has described 2020 as an “inflection point” in the electric vehicle revolution, as Elon Musk’s Tesla sold more than half a million battery-powered vehicles globally. BHP’s main commodities are iron ore and copper, but it is seeking to expand its exposure to what it refers to as “future-facing” commodities that will be increasingly required to power the clean-energy age, electrify transport and feed a fast-growing global population.

In August, it agreed to sell its global oil and gas division to Australia’s Woodside Petroleum, partly to free up its ability to increase spending on nickel and copper, two of its most immediate growth priorities. It has relocated its global exploration headquarters to Toronto from Santiago, Chile, and intends to nearly double its exploration spending within five years.

BHP’s chief development officer Johan van Jaarsveld earlier this year described Noront as a “world-class growth option in a key future-facing commodity”. BHP’s proposed acquisition of Noront was a “win-win” for both companies’ shareholders, he said.

“The highly prospective Eagle’s Nest nickel project provides an excellent platform from which to develop further opportunities in Ontario’s Ring of Fire,” Mr van Jaarsveld said. “For Noront shareholders, this offer recognises and realises the full value of Noront’s portfolio, delivering guaranteed shareholder returns in the near term.”

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