Mechel Guns for German Metals Deal

Mechel, the country's biggest coking coal producer, is seeking German anti-monopoly approval to acquire indirect control of metals trader HBL Holding, the German Federal Cartel Office said Tuesday.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but an analyst said Mechel would likely pay 80 million to 85 million euros ($116 million to $124 million) if it acquired 100 percent of the trader.

Mechel, which is also Russia's sixth-largest steelmaker, lost one-third of its market capitalization in July after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attacked it for selling abroad cheaper than domestically.

Mechel and HBL Holding declined to comment. A source close to the deal said negotiations were under way.

"We received documents from Mechel on August 28," said Silke Kaul, a spokeswoman for the anti-monopoly body. She said the step was required of all companies in merger deals in Germany, regardless of the market share they take.

"We will be checking through the end of the month whether the deal may cause any competition problems," Kaul said. "We may also ask for another two months to check the finer details of the merger."

HBL Holding includes eight trading firms and several service centers, according to the company's web site. The private metals trader provides services to more than 9,000 clients.

Mechel sells the specialized steel that it produces in Russia to Europe through its affiliate Mechel-Trading. The company exports its products to Germany, France, Italy and several other European countries.

A source in Mechel-Trading's Lichtenstein office said he was not aware of the German deal but that it would be a boon for his company.

"Should we get control in a local trader, we would certainly get more customers," the source said on condition of anonymity. "We will get local experience and knowledge, as well as more people to sell our products."

Dmitry Baranov, a chief analyst at Finam Management, said HBL Holding might be worth 78 million to 80 million euros, although Mechel might be ready to pay a premium for a quicker deal.

"Getting a share of a European company will help Mechel … reduce the risk of the local traders refusing to sell Mechel's products after what happened this summer," Baranov said.

"The government may change the rules of the game at any moment, as Mechel's crisis showed, so buying the German metals trader may be a part of the company's strategy to make itself less vulnerable."