Swiss marriage: tears or cheers?

Australia a key part of empire formed in $82 billion marriage of Xstrata and Glencore.

Australia a key part of empire formed in $82 billion marriage of Xstrata and Glencore.

AUSTRALIA would be a crucial part of the resources empire to emerge from an $82 billion marriage of Swiss companies Xstrata and Glencore, and analysts say the new entity would be likely to expand here through mergers and acquisitions.

A formal offer from Glencore is likely within 26 days - and perhaps as early as next week - after the two companies confirmed that merger talks were under way.

If successful, the merged entity would rely on Australian mines for 33 per cent of its revenue, according to an analysis by Swiss bank UBS.

The merged company would also have 28 per cent of its assets housed in Australia, meaning that thousands of Australian jobs are potentially affected by the merger talks in Europe.

Most of those jobs are in Queensland and New South Wales, where Xstrata has 17 coalmines.

Staff at Xstrata coalmines in NSW were given information on the merger situation when they arrived at work yesterday.

While the merger is estimated to result in savings of close to $US1 billion ($933 million), there was no indication yesterday that Australian jobs were at risk.

Mid-tier Australian coal companies, however, could be vulnerable, with the new entity expected to be hot on the acquisition trail in the years ahead.

One analyst said Xstrata's Mick Davis was known to be keen on acquisitions, but had been constrained by his company's underperforming share price in recent times.

Xstrata's London-listed shares have fallen 20.2 per cent in the past year, while BHP and Rio Tinto's London-listed shares have fallen by 12.7 per cent and 9.9 per cent respectively in the same period.

The analyst said Mr Davis could become acquisitive again if he stayed on with the new entity. ''It would give him a bigger platform and he'd probably reinvigorate some of his M&A aspirations,'' he said.

But CLSA analyst James Stewart said the merger was unlikely to send the share prices of Australian coal stocks soaring, as a busy period of mergers and acquisitions in the sector meant most stocks already had a takeover premium built into their price.

One of the stocks at the centre of recent merger activity in the coal sector - Whitehaven Coal - revealed last night that heavy rains in north-eastern Australia would rob it of at least one week's worth of production.

Four of Whitehaven's open-cut mines have been temporarily closed because of heavy rain and water in the pits.

Whitehaven is expected to soon finalise a $5 billion merger with Nathan Tinkler's Aston Resources.

Whitehaven shares fell 15? to close at $5.48 yesterday.

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