DataRoom AM: Asciano's China charm

Asciano's Patrick ports business catches the eye of a Chinese power player but majority ownership is a sticking point, while details of Solomon Lew's original David Jones plans come to the surface.

Asciano could be the latest beneficiary of the surging interest in trade infrastructure assets, with a stake in its Patrick ports business firmly in the sights of a Chinese heavyweight -- but the deal could yet stall over who retains control of the company.

Elsewhere, details emerge of a failed bid by Solomon Lew for a 50 per cent share in David Jones, GE mulls a local power plant sale and ING Direct tests interest in a $1.6 billion loan book.

China Merchants Group has reportedly offered about $1.1bn for a majority stake in the Asciano-run Patrick Terminals and Logistics business, but talks are at an impasse as Asciano insists it will only sell up to 49 per cent of the division, which runs container ports in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Asciano, advised by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, has been in discussions with China Merchants for two years, but a recently signed 60-day memorandum of understanding has seen talks become more serious. Should a deal get done it would mark the second major infrastructure deal of the year for the suitor after it purchased a 99-year lease on the Port of Newcastle as part of a joint venture with Hastings Funds Management.

In retail, the $2.15bn takeover of David Jones cleared its final hurdle yesterday, but not without a scare as ASIC raised concerns about a side deal that served to benefit DJs shareholder Solomon Lew. However, it was another bombshell that drew headlines this morning as details emerged of Lew chasing a 50-50 deal on DJs with suitor Woolworths SA in return for his support. He also offered to buy 100 per cent of Country Road.

Woolworths showed no interest in either deal, which is not surprising given its touchy relationship with the billionaire in recent years.

In the IPO market, US multinational GE is weighing the prospect of a float of its $1.2bn Worsley cogeneration plant in WA. The plant is linked to the BHP Billiton-backed Worsley Alumina refinery, with a decision on a divestment likely to be made next month.

Another company gearing up for an ASX listing is construction software provider Aconex, according to The Australian Financial Review. The IT firm has reportedly tapped Macquarie Capital and UBS to organise a non-deal roadshow that will begin next week.

Elsewhere, NZ software firm Vista Group has raised close to $90m through its dual-listing on the NZX and ASX. The firm will hit market boards on August 11.

In property, the number of bidders for Leighton Holdings’ properties business has thinned, with Dexus and Lend Lease dropping out of the running, the AFR reports. Ahead of final bids at the end of the month it appears to be a race in three, with Mirvac and Stockland looking to outdo favourite ARA Asset Management.

Meanwhile, the possible sale of a group of assets at Westfield’s local spinoff Scentre Group continues to draw attention as JP Morgan analysts float a possible price of $1.4bn for a portfolio of eight non-core shopping centres.

In finance, ING Direct has put a $1.6bn package of unbranded loans on the market amid plans to write more of its own loans. Macquarie Group is seen as a frontrunner in the auction, but the major banks and regional heavyweights will also take a look.

Finally, the complicated fight for control of Antares Energy took another twist yesterday as a third unsolicited bid rolled in for the group, which remains embroiled in a bitter battle with US activist fund Lone Star.