$10bn Lonmin takeover has investor support, claims Xstrata insider

Platinum miner accuses rival of 'guerrilla tactics' – but predator says eight out of nine major shareholders support a merger bid
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The Independent Online

Mining giant Xstrata has the support of eight of the nine biggest Lonmin shareholders for its $10bn (£5bn) tilt at the platinum producer, says an insider.

A source close to Xstrata made the bold claim as the war of words between the two companies escalated late last week. A Lonmin adviser was quoted as accusing Xstrata of using "guerrilla tactics" and being "extremely aggressive" in its £33-a-share bid, unveiled last Wednesday.

The Xstrata source hit back, arguing that "shareholders are really angered by the Lonmin management – eight of the top nine want this company dead [taken over]".

Xstrata's chief executive, Mick Davis, has plotted a bid since 2002, and the news that Lonmin, which is the world's third-biggest platinum miner, will produce only 80 per cent of what it achieved last year has strengthened his hand.

Mr Davis argues that a change of management is vital to improve the fortunes of the company and has told its shareholders that Xstrata is the ideal fit. The bid was also a 42 per cent premium to Lonmin's share price on Tuesday.

However, Mr Davis suffered a blow when the asset manager M&G, which helped derail EDF's takeover of British Energy two weeks ago, opposed the bid. M&G is the largest shareholder, with 15 per cent, but is thought to be holding out for a better offer.

The shareholder's move supported arguments by Sir John Craven, chairman of Lonmin, who dismissed Xstrata's action as "opportunistic" and said that it undervalued the long-term prospects of the miner.

Xstrata has yet to put financing in place for the deal, so the offer is not yet seen as "live", according to an industry source. Advisers are currently concentrating on getting antitrust clearance for a possible deal from authorities in South Africa, where Lonmin's operations are mainly based.

The industry source suggested that other bidders are unlikely to emerge, as "no one really wants to go and buy down in South Africa, because of issues such as the Aids situation".

A spokesman for Xstrata was unable to confirm the level of shareholder support, but insisted that it was "significant".

Xstrata's attempts to buy Lonmin coincide with the continuing struggle for control of Russia's Norilsk, the world's biggest nickel outfit. United Company Rusal, the Russian rival that owns more than 25 per cent of Norilsk and wants to merge the companies, is to step up its campaign to woo minority shareholders this week.

Rusal was angered by the appointment of Vladimir Strzhalkovsky as chief executive of Norilsk, a move instigated by rival shareholder Interros.

Oleg Deripaska, the principal shareholder of Rusal, believes that Interros has tightened its grip on Norilsk and is considering calling an emergency general meeting to replace and expand the board.

However, Rusal would need to win more than 50 per cent of a vote to replace the directors and expand the nine-person board to 13. Mr Deripaska's advisers believe the expansion is vital to ensure that there are a large number of independent directors on the board.

Rusal is not yet convinced it has got the number of votes it needs in the bag, so will continue to canvass shareholders, many of which are Western institutions. Norilsk is listed in Russia.

The confused state of Norilsk threatens to delay plans for its London flotation later this year. A source close to Rusal said: "I am struggling to see how a listing could be pulled off, given the current chaos of what is going on at Norilsk."

The board of Norilsk decided to go ahead with a London Stock Exchange listing in February, the same month that Rusal stepped up its attempts to merge the companies.