Tinkler launches $4bn bid for Whitehaven Coal

Nathan Tinkler is trying to gain control of Australia’s biggest independent coal company, Whitehaven Coal, just weeks after it welcomed him onto the share register.

The audacious Hunter-bred, Singapore-based dealmaker became a 21.6per cent shareholder in the $4billion company in April after a friendly takeover of Tinkler companies Aston Resources and Boardwalk Resources.

Mr Tinkler’s bid, if successful, will go down as one of the greatest ‘‘fox in the hen house’’ coups in Australian business history.

Whitehaven was worth $5billion when it took control of the Tinkler-founded Aston Resources earlier this year and, while its share price has dropped since then, it is still valued at more than $4billion.

It has mines and mining proposals in the Gunnedah Basin and is managed by a team of highly respected coal veterans, including Tony Haggarty and Allan Davies.

An apparently shocked Whitehaven board released a

statement to the Australian Securities Exchange yesterday, confirming ‘‘an indicative, non-binding proposal ... relating to a possible privatisation of Whitehaven from a Tinkler Group consortium’’.

The board said the bid was ‘‘highly conditional and incomplete’’ and ‘‘not considered capable of being progressed at this time’’, but a committee of directors not associated with Mr Tinkler had been formed to consider any future developments.

Whitehaven said it had retained Grant Samuel Corporate Finance and lawyers Corrs Chambers Westgarth as advisers.

Tinkler spokesman Tim Allerton confirmed last week the magnate and his family had moved from Newcastle to Singapore ‘‘to be closer to the markets, to Asia’’.

US-based Farallon Capital Markets, an investment house with offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo, has worked closely with Mr Tinkler in the past and is believed to be involved in this latest tilt.

Mr Tinkler, Whitehaven’s largest individual shareholder, had no comment yesterday beyond the Whitehaven board’s statement.

The Whitehaven bid is the latest in a series of escalating coal plays by Mr Tinkler, who has confounded industry observers at every turn with unconventional, but ultimately successful, investments.

Since 2006, he has turned a small borrowed kitty of about $1million into a personal worth of at least $1billion and created substantial shareholder wealth for others along the way.

But he has rankled some in the markets.

Aston’s share price plunged late last year when Mr Tinkler installed himself as Aston chairman, pushing aside former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile.

Mr Vaile became Whitehaven’s chairman after its friendly takeover of Aston, and most analysts backed the deal – despite concerns about the amount Whitehaven was paying for Mr Tinkler’s private assets in Boardwalk.

When the deal was approved in April, the market seemed more concerned Mr Tinkler would cash in his chips by selling his 21.6thper cent Whitehaven shareholding.

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