Mining contractor Mineral Resources has taken a 13 per cent stake in Aquila Resources in a bid to get involved in a large-scale iron ore project.
Perth-based Mineral Resources revealed itself on Thursday as the mystery buyer of a $192 million strategic stake in takeover target Aquila.
The move follows a joint $1.4 billion takeover bid for Aquila by Chinese steelmaker Baosteel and rail operator Aurizon in May.
The pair hopes to kickstart the stalled $10 billion West Pilbara Iron Ore Project (WPIOP) in Western Australia.
But Mineral Resources, Australia’s fifth largest iron ore producer, also wants to take part in the project, saying it has developed a solution for the large-scale mine, rail and port.
Mineral Resources managing director Chris Ellison said his company had the skills to build, own and operate key infrastructure.
“We are confident that we can play an important role in delivering the WPIOP on attractive terms,” he said.
“We have the financial capacity to make a meaningful capital contribution towards the development of the project.”
Mineral Resources is eager to hold talks about construction of infrastructure after buying 52 million Aquila shares for $3.72 and $3.75 each, a premium on Baosteel and Aurizon’s offer of $3.40 a share.
Baosteel and Aurizon already own 40 per cent of Aquila.
Morningstar Resources analyst Gareth James said a bidding war for Aquila was unlikely given the size of Mineral Resources and the high cost of developing the WPIOP.
“It seems Mineral Resources are taking a strategic stake that could enable them to be part of a future development and there’s also the possibility Baosteel might increase their bid,” Mr James said.
“Mineral Resources may be able to hold out for a higher price.”
If the challenging WPIOP goes ahead, the potential for Mineral Resources could be quite large.
IG Market Strategist Evan Lucas said it was unclear whether Mineral Resources was positioning for a takeover bid or looking to be involved in a joint venture.
“Paying $3.75 a share for a serious seat at the table would suggest bidding war is on and I would therefore assume that Mineral Resources is likely to bid or at least block the bid having paid a 35 cent premium,” Mr Lucas said.
He questioned whether the West Pilbara tier-1 assets were still lucrative given the slowdown in China.
Aquila shares closed down seven cents at $3.54, while Mineral Resources had lost 44 cents to $9.70.
Aurizon was two cents lower at $4.80.