RJB needs pounds 1bn for pits: Mining company set to borrow four times its market capitalisation

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The Independent Online
NEWLY floated RJB Mining needs to raise more than pounds 1bn to finance the acquisition of the bulk of British Coal's mining assets from the Government. The company, which joined the stock market last year, has a market capitalisation of just pounds 150m.

It is believed that RJB, which is advised by Barclays de Zoete Wedd, intends to finance the deal through a mixture of debt and equity with debt making up about 60 per cent of the total. Bank debt will be arranged by Barclays Mining Finance.

RJB was named on Wednesday as the preferred bidder for three of the five regional packages of mines, including many opencast sites and all but one of British Coal's 16 remaining operating collieries. The company will now control almost all the coal mining in England.

RJB is thought to be paying up to pounds 900m, which is far beyond most initial estimates of the price that British Coal's total mining assets would fetch. The company would not comment on the amount of money to be raised in connection with the deal, which is due for completion by Christmas.

Tim Eggar, the energy minister, said on Wednesday that price was the key factor in deciding who would win the mines. He said the bidding process had been entirely fair and RJB had 'obviously placed a premium' on acquiring all three coalfields in England.

Richard Budge, founder and chief executive of RJB, said the enlarged company would be in profit from year one. He could continue to increase the efficiency of the collieries, which had already made good progress under British Coal, and would not be saddled with extraordinary costs such as redundancy and colliery closures.

'The issue is one of matching world coal prices,' he said. 'British Coal has done a good job and we will continue the downward trend.'

Mr Budge, who takes over a mining workforce of 7,000, said there could be some 'minimal initial redundancies' which would probably affect management grades, but the workforce would then expand.

He hopes to displace up to 10 million tonnes of coal imports from countries including Colombia, South Africa, Russia and Poland. Britain at present imports about 18.5 million tonnes of coal, of which half goes into the domestic and industrial market place.

Mr Budge also hopes to export coal and is already testing the market with products from the mines RJB already operates.

RJB's output will soar to 40 million tonnes annually from four million at present once the acquisition is complete. Mr Budge denied that the rapid expansion would pose problems.

'The management is already there,' he said. 'They just want livening up.' He added that he wanted to avoid the image of coal baron, saying: 'Other people do the work. I just float around at the top. This king coal business is the last thing I want.'

His ambitious plans drew a warning from Richard Caborn, chairman of the Commons trade and industry select committee, who said the entire energy market remained rigged against coal by the Government and the outlook for the industry was bleak.

Mr Caborn said: 'It is not a question of who owns the coal mines, but of market share. The dash for gas in electricity generation will continue and nuclear will keep on growing unless the Government takes some action to prevent it. I am sceptical about the future market for coal.'

Gas could take about 70 per cent of the electricity generating market - on which the future of the coal industry depends - by the end of the decade. Exacerbating the problem was the unexpected success of Nuclear Electric, which already had 25 per cent of the generating market and was expected at least to maintain its share for the forseeable future. Mr Caborn said assumptions that the trend towards gas would slow had been proved wrong.

Several gas-fired generating projects emerged in recent weeks, including one led by British Gas.

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