Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Albemarle’s $4.2bn takeover of lithium developer Liontown Resources has collapsed after Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart acquired a big enough stake in the business to block the deal.
US miner Albemarle, the world’s largest lithium producer, abandoned the Liontown deal on Monday, citing “growing complexities associated with the proposed transaction”.
The failure of the deal highlights the growing battle for Australian lithium assets as the world’s largest developers look to boost their capacity. Lithium is a key component of batteries used in electric vehicles.
Albemarle had been working for months to acquire Liontown and its offer was accepted in September. Both Albemarle and Chile’s SQM are already investors in some of Western Australia’s largest lithium projects and have partnered with local players including IGO, Wesfarmers and Mineral Resources to develop projects.
But over recent weeks Australian billionaire Rinehart has built a 19.9 per cent stake in Liontown through her iron ore mining company Hancock Prospecting. Rinehart stopped just below the threshold where she would need to make a counteroffer for the company. However, her stake is large enough to potentially block a vote on the deal.
Albemarle did not directly refer to Hancock’s stake as the reason for walking away from the deal. The US miner’s exclusivity period to complete the takeover has expired but analysts said they do not anticipate Rinehart to make a counteroffer.
Kate McCutcheon, an analyst at Citi Australia, said that a takeover bid from Hancock was “unlikely” given the risks associated with getting Liontown’s mine into production.
The billionaire has not commented on the rationale for her move on Liontown.
Hancock said in a September statement that it would look to work alongside other shareholders and that there were opportunities to create “downstream value” in the lithium market in Western Australia, referring to the refining of the mineral once it has been extracted.
Liontown has appointed UBS to raise capital as it seeks to develop its key Kathleen Valley project, with a target of finalising funding this week. The company hopes to raise A$450mn (US$285mn) to get the project into production by mid-2024.
Liontown said that Albemarle had expressed a “favourable view” of Kathleen Valley and the management team despite walking away from its offer.
Hancock has yet to request a board seat at Liontown and would need to request a special meeting to do so as board nominations for the annual meeting closed last week.