Forrest increases stake in Fortescue

Andrew Forrest has continued to build his stake in Fortescue Metals Group, after this week buying more than $23 million of shares in the iron ore miner.

Andrew Forrest has continued to build his stake in Fortescue Metals Group, after this week buying more than $23 million of shares in the iron ore miner.

Mr Forrest added another 5,207,812 shares to his majority stake in the company over recent days, in a series of on-market purchases.

The transaction was worth $23,609,032, and according to Bloomberg statistics, Mr Forrest now owns 32.78 per cent of the company.

A fresh round of share buying by Mr Forrest was not totally unexpected, given the better-than-expected dividend that Fortescue announced in August yielded more than $102 million for him.

But the purchases make a clear statement to those tempted to follow the lead of hedge fund manager Jim Chanos, who recently confirmed he was still short-selling Fortescue shares, despite the miner's strong recovery over the past year.

Mr Chanos is one of very few members of the investment community who continues to doubt Fortescue's future, with most investment banks and some ratings agencies recently expressing strong confidence in Fortescue's ability to service its debt.

Meanwhile, Fortescue has also taken charge of two ore processing facilities at its Christmas Creek mine in the Pilbara, in a move that has effectively sidelined the contractor hired to operate them.

A subsidiary of ASX listed Mineral Resources Limited had been contracted to operate the facilities for between seven and nine years, but a recent fatality is believed to have prompted Fortescue to step in and take charge.

Some well-placed sources suggested that Fortescue had been keen to take control of the operations for a while, rather than have them run by contractors.

The changeover is not expected to affect Fortescue's iron ore production guidance, and will not affect Mineral Resources' revenues immediately, with the contractor to continue being paid as normal.

But shares in Mineral Resources sank on the back of the news, falling $1.11 to $10.95, well below last Friday's $12.20.

Fortescue shares continued their three-month rally on Tuesday, rising 13¢ to $4.72.

In a research note published this week, JPMorgan analyst Lyndon Fagan upgraded his forecasts for Fortescue's net profit after tax.

Mr Fagan said Fortescue should be able to push beyond its production target of 155 million tonnes a year without spending significant amounts of money. He said efficiency measures should enable the miner to hit 160 million tonnes.

Despite iron ore prices remaining above $US130 a tonne in recent weeks, Mr Fagan said Fortescue's share price was implying a permanent iron ore price of just $US91 a tonne. JPMorgan and ANZ both expect iron ore prices to average higher than $US100 a tonne for the next three years.

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