DataRoom AM: BHP breather

BHP Billiton slows down its divestment plans, while Wesfarmers' reshuffle may signal expansion intent.

Divestments may no longer be the order of the day for BHP Billiton, but its multi-billion dollar portfolio “simplification” appears far from over. The miner’s first-half earnings announcement also presented the opportunity for the global giant to knock rumours of a UK delisting on their head.

Elsewhere, Wesfarmers weighs up overseas expansion options, APN News & Media seeks to gain complete control of the Australian Radio Network and Sonic Healthcare pushes ahead with plans to expand in Germany.

Fresh from booking $US2.2 billion ($2.4 billion) worth of asset sales in the first half, BHP Billiton said yesterday it would proceed with a “simplification” of its portfolio but hinted the pace of its reduction would slow. As much as $40 billion worth of assets could still be hived off over the coming decade, according to some analysts, but BHP’s improved cash flow dictates that there is no rush. It has confirmed, however, that it is “actively talking” with possible partners to join its massive Jansen potash project in Canada.

The world’s largest miner also put talk of a delisting of its stock from the London Stock Exchange to bed after reports emerged earlier this week that it had weighed up the idea in 2013. BHP is dual-listed on the LSE as well as the Australian Securities Exchange.

Wesfarmers has promoted Coles boss Ian McLeod to a newly created commercial director role within the conglomerate. For some it is an indication of succession planning, although perhaps it is more a signal of expansion intent, with McLeod slated to find suitable takeover targets abroad. The news follows on the heels of the sale of Wesfarmers’ insurance business, which leaves cash available for acquisitions.

APN News & Media is readying for a capital raising of up to $150 million to fund a move to claim full ownership of its radio assets, according to The Australian Financial Review. The deal will see APN buy out joint venture partner Clear Channel Communications from The Australian Radio Network (which includes the Mix and Classic Hits stations as well as Sydney’s KIIS) and New Zealand’s The Radio Network.

It comes six years after APN first declared a desire to buy out Clear Channel’s share if a suitable opportunity arose. Patience is a virtue.

Sonic Healthcare also has acquisitions on its near-term agenda, pointing to Germany as the best location to expand in the near term. The company recently sealed a $115 million purchase of German-based Labco and has been linked to the $1 billion-plus auction German pathology group Amedes.

In the IPO market, private equity group Ironbridge is settling plans for a $400 million float of IVF business Healthbridge, the AFR says. Morgan Stanley is seen as the lead candidate to land a plum advisory role, though a timeframe has not yet been agreed.

Finally, former nickel market darling Western Areas is looking to raise up to $104 million in order to reduce debt obligations ahead of two convertible bonds worth a total of $235 million, falling due in July.