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Apollo consortium frontfrunner for Anglo’s $1.5 billion Australian coal assets, say sources: Reuters

A consortium led by private equity firm Apollo Global Management (APO.N) has emerged as the frontrunner for Anglo American‘s (AAL.L) metallurgical coal mines in Australia, valued at up to $1.5 billion, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Anglo American, like its peers, is selling off prized assets after a prolonged commodities rout that has left it with high levels of debt.

The mining firm said in February that discussions were underway about divesting its Moranbah and Grosvenor assets, as part of its plans to sell $3-4 billion of assets this year in order to cut debt. The process is being run by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC.N).

Apollo has now teamed up with energy-focused private equity firm Riverstone Holdings and Pennsylvania coal exporter Xcoal Energy & Resources, founded by Ernie Thrasher and Chris Cline, a billionaire entrepreneur often dubbed the King of Coal, and is on site finalizing details of the deal, one of the sources familiar with the matter said.

The consortium, which has yet to enter exclusive talks but could sign a deal within weeks, has financing lined up from four banks, this source said speaking on condition of anonymity.

Reuters previously reported that major mining firms BHP Billiton and Glencore as well as suitors from China, Japan and India were looking at the assets.

Anglo American last week booked a $1.2 billion impairment on the value of the Moranbah-Grosvenor assets, which it said reflected a weaker outlook for the price of metallurgical coal, used in steel making.

It said it could not comment on the “ongoing” sale process.

Apollo, Riverstone and Glencore declined to comment, whilst Xcoal and BHP Billiton did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“It’s a complex process,” Anglo American Chief Executive Mark Cutifani said last week.

Several bankers said BHP Billiton (BHP.AX)(BLT.L) Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA), the world’s largest metallurgical coal exporter, has bid for the assets, but could run into competition issues in China and Japan, which would slow down completion of a sale at a time when Anglo American needs cash to pay down debt. One banker said the private equity consortium had put in a higher offer than BMA, but financing was the key stumbling block because banks, under pressure from clean energy campaigners, are reluctant to lend to the coal industry. So far, Anglo American is about half way to its asset sales target for 2016, having fetched a higher-than-expected $1.5 billion for its niobium and phosphates businesses in Brazil earlier this year.