Rio Tinto’s M&A Madness – by David Fickling (Bloomberg News – November 20, 2017)

Some companies are good at takeovers. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett has used well over a hundred acquisitions over decades to help leverage $1,200 of savings from his newspaper round into one of the world’s largest business empires.

Rio Tinto Group isn’t one of those companies. Indeed, it’s hard to find an acquisition since its 2000 takeover of Australian iron ore miner North Ltd. that’s not been a top-of-the-market catastrophe.

That should make investors nervous about the prospect that a big new lithium deal could be forthcoming. Rio Tinto is working with advisers on a bid for a stake in Soc. Quimica & Minera de Chile SA, people familiar with the matter told Jack Farchy, Dinesh Nair and Thomas Biesheuvel of Bloomberg News on Friday.

SQM, as it’s known, has been on a tear, with shares more than doubling this year alongside a lithium carbonate price that’s tripled since the start of 2013. A purchase of the 32 percent stake held by Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. would be worth about $4.8 billion at current prices.

If you think you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you have — and it’s never ended well. Aluminum prices rallied more than 50 percent in the two years before Rio Tinto fended off Alcoa Inc. in a $38.1 billion bid for Canada’s Alcan in 2007.

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