Pilbara reveals plan to buy Altura for US$175M

Altura's hard-rock open pit lithium mine, in Western Australia, began commercial operations in 2019. Credit: Altura Mining

Australian lithium producer Pilbara Minerals (ASX: PLS) has signed a conditional agreement with a group of lenders to buy embattled rival Altura Mining for US$175 million.

The West Perth-based miner would pay US$155 million upfront and in cash. It would also pay about US$20 million for the shares in Altura Lithium Operations upon successful completion of the deal.

The cash portion will be mostly funded through future equity capital raising of about A$240 million (US$171 million), backed by AustralianSuper, the country’s largest pension fund, and Resource Capital Funds.

The investment isn’t AusSuper’s first in the lithium sector. The fund also owns a stake in Argentinean Orocobre (TSX: ORL; ASX: ORE) and has almost 10% of Piedmont Lithium (ASX: PLL).

Pilbara has also secured a right to match any competing proposal for Altura Mining and negotiated a break fee should the lenders accept a competing proposal.

The company’s agreement with the senior secured loan noteholders of Altura comes after the targeted miner entered administration on Tuesday.

Prices and virus

Altura said the impact of the coronavirus pandemic had aggravated the effects on its bottom line after a prolonged period of low lithium prices.

The hard rock lithium miner has been losing money, since battery metals had fallen by about 50% over the past two years.

Pilbara said the conditional deal provides it with a path to potentially acquire Altura’s lithium project through the purchase of shares in Altura Lithium Operations.

Pilbara operates the Pilgangoora mine adjacent to Altura’s project and extracts lithium spodumene from the same ore body, 100 km south of Port Hedland.

If successful, the acquisition of Altura would cement Pilbara Minerals’ position as the biggest pure-play ASX-listed lithium company by value, managing director and chief executive Ken Brinsden said in a statement.

The executive also said the move would provide his company with strong leverage to the expected recovery in lithium prices.

— This article first appeared in MINING.com, part of Glacier Resource Innovation Group.


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