Billiton confirms metals approaches

BILLITON, the South African mining group, confirmed yesterday it had received a number of approaches following the merger mania that has swept the world's aluminium industry.

Brian Gilbertson, chairman, said he had an open mind about taking part in the bout of consolidation but stressed that the company's preference was to remain an upstream aluminium smelter rather than expanding into aluminium fabrication.

"We have received proposals but we have not seen anything which appeals to us," he added.

Mr Gilbertson would not say where the approaches had come from. But it is understood that both the Alcan-Pechiney-Alusuisse grouping and Alcoa, which is taking over Reynolds, have asked Billiton whether it would be interested in putting its aluminium interests into their rival groupings.

There has also been speculation that Billiton could become a bid target for Anglo American or Rio Tinto.

Mr Gilbertson also said Billiton would be interested in buying Shell's coal interests, valued at $500m to $1bn, while it had firepower of at least $1.7bn to spend on organic expansion and acquisitions. Acquiring Shell's portfolio would strengthen Billiton's position as the world's biggest coal producer.

He was speaking as the group reported a 20 per cent fall in profits to $383m last year on sales down by 15 per cent to $5.2bn.

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