Roy Hill boss cool on buying rail, port stake
The iron ore empires of Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart appear unlikely to co-operate over railways and ports, according to the man running Mrs Rinehart's ambitious Roy Hill project in the Pilbara.
Barry Fitzgerald, the chief executive of Roy Hill Holdings, admitted he had studied the sale process that Mr Forrest's Fortescue Metals has been running for a stake in its port and rail assets.
But he poured cold water on the notion that Roy Hill might emerge as the buyer of a 30 to 40 per cent stake in Fortescue's infrastructure holding company, telling a conference in Perth that Roy Hill would prefer to control its own infrastructure assets.
Mr Fitzgerald is charged with developing Australia's next big iron ore mine - plus port and rail solutions - at a time when iron ore prices appear to be past their peak. But he said the project, estimated to cost $US7 billion to $US10 billion, was being assessed against long-term iron ore price estimates, rather than the volatile spot price.
Roy Hill has been pursuing funding support for the mine for several months and Mr Fitzgerald said that process should be complete by the end of 2013. He said 50 per cent of the mine's future supply was already tied to offtake agreements.
Fortescue's rail and ports sale is expected to raise about $US3 billion for the company, and was previously tipped to be concluded about this time.
Fortescue chief executive Nev Power told a conference in Hong Kong the sale of a minority stake in the infrastructure assets was progressing well, and a shortlist of candidates featured pension funds and infrastructure companies. He did not mention mining companies but suggested the process could be completed by June.
The public appearances by Mr Power and Mr Fitzgerald came as investors punished iron ore stocks with another round of fierce selling.
The catalyst this time was not movements in the benchmark iron ore price - which remained steady at $US134 a tonne - but a decision by Goldman Sachs' London office to downgrade its iron ore price forecasts for the next three years.
Goldman Sachs previously had been one of the more bullish iron ore forecasters with its prediction that the benchmark price would average $US144 a tonne in 2013.
Its revised forecast of $US139 a tonne remains relatively bullish, but the downgrade was enough for Goldman's UK team to change its Rio Tinto rating to "conviction sell".
The change came despite Goldman's Australian analysts retaining a "neutral" rating on Rio. The ensuing rout on European markets spread to the ASX on Wednesday morning where shares in Rio, BHP Billiton, Fortescue and Atlas Iron lost several percentage points.