Fearing that it could have a negative impact on Chinese imports, the state-run Sinochem Group has hired Deutsche Bank AG (NYSE: DB) and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) to help disrupt BHP's bid for the fertilizer company, people familiar the matter told the FT. A Chinese bank, thought to be Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, was also part of the team.
Citigroup, which acts as joint corporate broker to BHP along with Bank of America Corp.'s (NYSE: BAC) Merrill Lynch unit, has asked to be relieved of its role in BHP's bid in order to advise Sinochem on a potential counter-bid.
Canada-based Potash, the world's largest producer of potash, yesterday (Tuesday) rejected an unsolicited takeover bid from the Australia mining giant, calling the offer "grossly inadequate."
The fertilizer company also quickly adopted a so-called poison-pill defense to fend off would-be suitors, though it said it would be open to a transaction if the price were right.
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The landmark move by Vale and Anglo-Australian BHP ended the annual benchmark system when they signed new short-term deals linked to quarterly prices on the spot market, with the Brazilian company winning a 90% increase. Another large iron ore producer, Rio Tinto PLC (NYSE: RTP) has yet to sign any new contract, but is expected to soon follow.
The primary mineral used in steel, iron ore directly affects steel prices and the cost of everyday goods, including refrigerators, cars, and washing machines. That made the recent negotiations one of the most important issues for the global economy and commodity markets.
Unlike corrupt transactions in other resource-rich countries where customers often receive bribes or kickbacks in exchange for arranging lucrative contracts, in China just the opposite is often the case.
The Rio Tinto executives, for instance, were accused of receiving bribes in return for delivering supplies of highly-desirable iron ore - the key commodity in China's burgeoning steel-making industry.
The four executives admitted receiving $13.5 million (92.18 million yuan) between them in bribes, China's state news agency Xinhua reported, citing court documents. They could face up to 20 years in prison.
But the gist of the story revolves around China's chaotic iron-ore trading system.
Iron ore producers and consumers were so far apart last year that negotiations on pricing broke down entirely. No price benchmark was reached between major Australian iron ore miners and China's steel mills.
Instead, steelmakers resorted to buying their iron ore from smaller producers on the volatile spot market. And they may have to do the same thing again this year.
That's because iron ore producers - led by Brazil's Vale SA (NYSE ADR: VALE) and Australian juggernauts BHP Billiton (NYSE ADR: BHP) and Rio Tinto PLC (NYSE ADR: RTP) - are reportedly looking for an increase of as much as 90% in the benchmark price.
"The negotiations are difficult. These miners hope for a large rise" in the 2010 benchmark price of iron ore, said Deng Qilin, the chairman of both the China Iron and Steel Association and the Wuhan Iron & Steel Group. "We can't digest the pressure of what they're asking us."
It was a momentous decision. The U.S. economy and the global financial system seemed to be coming to a precipitous end.
The day before Money Morning published my lengthy analysis and recommendation, The New York Times published an editorial by the newly anointed economics Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, entitled "The Widening Gyre." Krugman in that editorial criticized those of us who believed emerging economies would decouple from the financial melee that was wrought by the over-leveraged and imbalanced developed economies.
"The really shocking thing, however, is the way the crisis is spreading to emerging markets - countries like Russia, Korea and Brazil," he wrote. And he derided the notion of "the supposed ability of emerging market economies to keep growing even if the United States fell into recession.... Now the emerging markets are in big trouble."