First Reserve Denies Interest in Whitehaven

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – First Reserve Corp, the biggest shareholder in Australia’s Whitehaven Coal (WHC.AX), on Tuesday denied media reports it was looking to buy out Whitehaven and denied any rift with Whitehaven management.

“FRC is not involved in any consortium, or in any proposed consortium, to privatise WHC,” First Reserve Corp said in a statement.

Whitehaven shares fell 3.3 percent to close at A$6.15 valuing the group at A$3 billion ($2.75 billion) after First Reserve released the statement. The stock had jumped more than 20 percent over the past week on takeover talk.

Australian media reported on Monday that First Reserve was talking to U.S. coal miner Alpha Natural Resources (ANR.N) about making a $2.75 billion buyout offer for Whitehaven.

Alpha later said that it was assessing strategic growth opportunities, but did not say specifically whether it was looking at Whitehaven.

Speculation has swirled that Whitehaven might be the next takeover target in Australia’s hottest sector, following a spate of acquisitions by Asian companies.

Thailand’s Banpu (BANP.BK) recently offered $2 billion for Centennial Coal (CEY.AX), that followed an aborted $3.5 billion bidding war earlier this year led by U.S. miner Peabody Energy (BTU.N) for Macarthur Coal (MCC.AX). [ID:nSGE674038]

Whitehaven Managing Director Tony Haggarty has discouraged speculation that any deal was imminent, while the company confirmed on Monday that it “has had a data room open for some time in relation to various potential transactions.”

Rumours that a rift between First Reserve and Whitehaven management stoked talk that a buyout was in the works, but First Reserve said there was nothing to the talk.

“In addition, FRC’s working relations with the WHC management team are excellent, contrary to media speculation,” it said.

Haggarty and a company spokeswoman were not immediately available for comment on First Reserve’s statement. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Ed Davies)