BREAKFAST DEALS: Rio road trip

Rio Tinto is said to be venturing near and far to offload assets, while Virgin drives an ACCC wedge in the Qantas-Emirates marriage.

After billions of dollars in writedowns and more than a year on the market, parts of Rio Tinto's aluminium business have finally piqued somebody's interest. Elsewhere, Virgin is trying to shoot down Qantas over the Tasman, and there's fresh pressure on Nine and Southern Cross to broadcast their merger plans.

Rio Tinto, Trimet Aluminium AG

First up, Rio Tinto's new chief Sam Walsh has hit the ground running, with reports the miner is progressing asset sales in New Zealand and Europe.

Trimet Aluminium AG, Germany’s biggest aluminium producer, confirmed to Reuters it is in discussions with Rio to buy two smelters in France – at the Castelsarrasin and Saint-Jean de Maurienne sites.

However, talks have only just begun so there's no word yet on pricing.

In any case, the interest will be encouraging. Rio Tinto has been trying to flog its Pacific Aluminium group of assets for more than a year now, and Walsh is surely keen to shake the division responsible for that $11 billion writedown.

Closer to home, Rio Tinto has also tapped Perth-based Azure Capital to advise on its options for its New Zealand iron sands assets, including a possible sale, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Specifically, Rio owns a majority stake in two blocks covering more than 1200 square kilometres off the west coast of the North Island.

While it's unclear what these assets would fetch on the market, Deutsche Bank has estimated the resources company could raise as much as $US10 billion ($A9.7 billion) from asset sales globally.

Virgin Australia, Emirates, Qantas Airways

Virgin Australia has fired the latest shot in its war with Qantas, calling on the competition regulator to limit the flying kangaroo's alliance with Emirates.

In a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Virgin argues trans-Tasman routes should be excluded from the tie-up, rather than imposing conditions on capacity, according to The Australian Financial Review

The crux of Virgin's argument is that the "claimed public benefits" of the deal do not extend to flights between Australia and New Zealand. The airline will be hoping to tap into ACCC concerns that Qantas and Emirates might cut growth on their four overlapping trans-Tasman services to the detriment of customers.

“Whilst there may be public benefits that arise in relation to flights to Europe, it is not clear that there are material public benefits from the Qantas-Emirates alliance on the Tasman,” Virgin is quoted as saying.

Interestingly, the submission comes as Virgin and Air New Zealand prepare to renew their own trans-Tasman partnership later this year. In that case, the smaller airline has asked the regulator not to impose similar conditions on its own deal.

Virgin has also warned it might abandon a separate bid for Tiger Australia if the ACCC imposes growth targets in Australia.

Ten Network, Nine Network, Southern Cross Media

In another case of a rival up in arms, Ten Network has turned up the heat on Southern Cross Media over its supposed deal talks with Nine Network, accusing the regional broadcaster of failing to meet its "continuous disclosure obligations" as a listed company.

“The Government’s determination to rush through the removal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule is staggering,” incoming Ten chief Hamish McLennan told The Australian.

“All Australians have the right to know what whispers have taken place over the back fence, and what conversations have been had with the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy.”

Breakfast Deals reported yesterday that Nine boss David Gyngell is expected to front a parliamentary committee to back the overhaul of the so-called reach rule, which would pave the way for a merger with Southern Cross.

However, in a statement earlier this month, Southern Cross would only reveal it was reviewing "a number of strategic options".

"It is now obvious to everyone that Southern Cross Media’s intention is to merge with Nine Entertainment Co," said McLennan. "But Southern Cross Media remains silent. Its shareholders have a right to know if the company’s directors are meeting their continuous disclosure obligations."

Adani Mining, Aurizon Network, Endocoal, Linc Energy, QC Resource Investments, Whitehaven Coal, Xstrata, Yancoal Australia

Aurizon had a big day yesterday, inking a coal haulage contract with Xstrata and likely winning more big business from a mining collective including Whitehaven Coal.

The ACCC said it would allow Whitehaven, Endocoal, Link Energy, QC Resource Investments and Yancoal Australia to bargain collectively for access to Aurizon's planned rail line between Queensland's Galilee Basin, Abbot Point and Dudgeon Point. The decision is expected to expedite the build by locking in rail capacity in one big deal.

Separately, the freight operator, formerly known as QR National, won a contract from Xstrata to transport 20 per cent more coal from the miner's growing Rolleston mine to Gladstone and the new Wiggins Island port.

The performance based contract runs until 2025.

Wrapping up

The Mighty River Power float is finally being fleshed out in a 119-page pre-marketing document, which treats the New Zealand energy company as a yield play, according to The Australian Financial Review.

The report, by book-runner Macquarie Securities, says Mighty River will pay out in dividends up to 110 per cent of new profit after tax. It also values the company at $NZ3.4 billion to $NZ4.3 billion, or $NZ2.44 to $NZ3.06 a share, based on 1.4 billion shares on issue.

However, the New Zealand government plans to retain a 51 per cent stake.

Australian investors are expected to be offered up to 30 per cent of Mighty River, which will list in New Zealand and Australia, depending on how much interest there is from the kiwis.

Finally, those interested in Banksia's portfolio of roughly 560 rural loans have been given until March 27 to submit final bids, according to a separate report in The Australian Financial Review.

The newspaper says likely bidders for the portfolio, which is expected to fetch about $200 million, include Bendigo Bank, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Macquarie Group.

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