U.S. Firms Circle Australia’s Whitehaven Coal

Aug 9 (Reuters) – U.S. firms First Reserve and Alpha Natural Resources (ANR.N) are considering a $2.75 billion buyout of Australia’s Whitehaven Coal (WHC.AX), a newspaper said, as the coal firm confirmed it has had a data room open to suitors for some time.

Whitehaven shares jumped as much as 5.2 percent to a record high of A$6.45, valuing the group at A$3.15 billion ($2.89 billion).

Whitehaven, eyed for its high-quality thermal and coking coal, said on Aug 5 it was in talks with third parties on potential deals but did not disclose whom it was talking to or whether its potential bidders were talking about a takeover, buying stakes in the company or stakes in its mines. [ID:nSGE6730QD]

“Whitehaven confirmed that the company has had a data room in place for a long period of time for use in relation to various potential transactions,” the company said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The Australian newspaper said the two American companies were seeking support from the AMCI group, Whitehaven’s second-biggest shareholder with a 15 percent stake, to buy the company and sell parts of it to Alpha, which mines coal in Wyoming and eastern United States.

Whitehaven’s spokeswoman declined to comment further on Monday’s newspaper report.

First Reserve, a private equity company, already owns 27 percent of Whitehaven, which last week rose more than 12 percent on speculation that it might be a takeover target.

First Reserve and AMCI have a joint venture private equity fund. Executives at AMCI Capital’s Australian office, including former Whitehaven managing director Keith Ross, and Alpha Natural Resources were not immediately available for comment.

The paper cited unnamed sources as saying the proposal had yet to develop into a formal offer and no official bid might eventuate. ($1=A$1.09) (Reporting by Michael Smith and Sonali Paul; Editing by Ed Davies)