September 22, 2010
Hostile Cross-Border Deals: BHP's Pursuit of PotashCorp
A heated cross-border hostile takeover saga (with big US connections) has been occurring over potash (a key input for fertilizer and other agricultural products), and the moves by the various players should remind our readers of classic plays in the hostile takeover game. In August of this year, British-Australian giant BHP Billiton (the jilted former suitor of Rio Tinto back in 2008) launched a $39 billion takeover bid for Canadian company Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. (“PotashCorp”). PotashCorp’s board has been actively resisting BHP’s bid, putting forth the usual argument that BHP’s offer is opportunistic, inadequate and coercive, that Potash is better off alone rather than selling to BHP (without of course ruling out a potential sale at some point), and that “superior offers are expected to emerge.” PotashCorp’s management has not relied only on the standard letters, press releases and regulatory filings to resist BHP, as Brian noted earlier, PotashCorp’s CEO has also posted videos to communicate with the company’s shareholders. Meanwhile BHP’s CEO is busy meeting with Canadian lawmakers and defending the Potash bid to his shareholders. Now, there is also news that China’s Sinochem Corp. has allegedly hired expensive bankers (are there any other kind…) to explore a rival offer for PotashCorp. In light of potential competition from Sinochem, BHP’s CEO stated yesterday that BHP would be willing to walk away if the offer didn’t make sense for his shareholders. Of course, this could also be because it is not clear that BHP’s shareholders buy the argument that the PotashCorp acquisition is the way to go (especially since there is a lot of evidence that big transactions like this rarely add value for the shareholders of the buyer). Moreover, unlike these kinds of big deal involving US companies where shareholders of the acquirer often do not get voting rights, BHP may need shareholder approval for its offer under the UK Listing Rules which require approval from shareholders of the acquirer of larger (Class 1 transactions), meaning a transaction that amounts to 25 percent (or more) of any of the company‘s gross assets, profits, or gross capital, or in which the consideration is 25 percent (or more) of the market capitalization of the company‘s common stock.
PotashCorp isn’t waiting around to see if Sinochem comes forward with an offer, it has also filed a suit in US federal court seeking to block the takeover and accusing “BHP of making false and misleading statements in regards to how it plans to run the combined company in the future.” PotashCorp has also raised the BHP shareholder vote issue, stating in its complaint that “BHP failed to disclose to PCS shareholders that on the day it launched its hostile bid, and thereafter in light of the market reaction to the offer price, it was reasonably likely that a vote of BHP shareholders – required under U.K. law for any acquisition where the consideration equals 25% or more of the acquirer’s market capitalization – would be required. Indeed, even BHP’s lowball bid was equal to approximately 23% of BHP’s market capitalization at the time the tender offer was commenced. BHP’s misleading omission deprived PCS shareholders of critical information in at least two respects: that approval of the transaction was uncertain, and that the need for shareholder approval could constrain BHP’s ability to increase its bid to a level closer to fair value.”
For M&A buffs, it is worth keeping an eye on this deal, there are a lot of moving targets and I wouldn’t be surprised if more legal, strategic and regulatory issues arise.
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