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If it’s a white knight Inmet Mining Corp. is looking for, there’s no shortage of candidates it might lure to its massive world class copper project in Panama.
Inmet has yet to comment on the merits of a $5.1-billion hostile takeover offer from rival First Quantum Minerals, the Canadian copper miner that wants to combine the companies and become a top five producer. Late last month Inmet rejected an informal approach from First Quantum that valued it at $4.9-billion, saying it was highly conditional.
Industry experts say Inmet has essentially put itself up for sale, and expect it to start an auction process to attract a bid higher than the $72 per share on offer from First Quantum.
“The next question is who, because so often a bidder comes out of the woodwork and you say, ‘Oh, I didn’t think of them,’ ” said Raymond Goldie, an analyst with Salman Partners in Toronto, pointing to Teck Resources Ltd., Canada’s largest diversified miner, as a potential candidate.
Teck declined comment on Tuesday, saying it does not respond to takeover speculation. Vancouver-based Teck already knows Cobre Panama well, having operated the project until it walked away from it in 2008 when commodity markets briefly crashed at a time when the company was under duress following a major acquisition.
Soon afterward, copper prices rebounded and, while off record highs of a year ago, remain healthy.
“The main thing that’s changed is the price of copper has sustained itself at a remarkably high level,” said Mr. Goldie, pointing at prices near $3.60 a pound and which compare to average costs of production at $1.60 a pound.
Industry sources estimate that up to a dozen companies – First Quantum is not one of them – have visited Inmet’s massive Cobre Panama copper project in the past three years as it tried to attract a joint venture partner to help shoulder some $6.2-billion in development costs.
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