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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinalco Eyes RusAl Assets, But Not Shares

BEIJING — With ambitions to expand and acquire assets overseas, Chinese metals giant Chinalco is eyeing facilities held by United Company RusAl, but the Russian producer said Tuesday that it had no intention of selling.

The mining and metals conglomerate has targeted RusAl’s stake in an alumina refinery in Australia but is less interested in buying into the indebted Russian company’s Hong Kong share issue, two sources familiar with the situation said Tuesday.

But political pressure may oblige state-owned Chinalco to subscribe to the share issue and take a stake in RusAl, the sources said. Top management from RusAl, controlled by Oleg Deripaska, is visiting China now to bargain for a series of potential cooperation moves.

The visit coincides with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s trip to Beijing, where deals worth some $3.5 billion were signed.

“The subscription largely depends on how Putin’s visit goes,” one of the sources said. “At the state level, Russia and China have a long-term friendship, but a big concern is that Chinalco is a state-owned company while RusAl is private sector.

“Chinalco is not lacking money, but RusAl is deep in debt. The two sides could seek other ways of cooperating besides the share subscription,” the source said.

The asset Chinalco is keenest to invest in is Queensland Alumina, or QAL, which would shore up its supply chain in Australia, the sources said.

The plant is one of the world’s largest alumina refineries, with a nominal capacity of 3.95 million tons of alumina each year, RusAl says on its web site.

RusAl owns 20 percent and Rio Tinto, in which Chinalco is the biggest shareholder, holds the rest of QAL.

Officials from Chinalco were not available to comment, and RusAl’s media office said by e-mail that it had no intention of selling its stake in QAL.

“It could be very hard for Chinalco to hammer the deal as it would be very tough to persuade RusAl to sell the refinery stake, especially if RusAl has its own bauxite supplies in Australia,” said Essence Securities analyst Heng Kun.

RusAl, more than $16 billion in debt, has restarted plans for a stock listing in Hong Kong to raise $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion by the end of this year, sources have said on condition of anonymity.

The company must first settle its debt-restructuring plan with more than 70 international and Russian banks, the sources said. RusAl has said it plans to complete this long-delayed process by the end of October.

Despite political pressure, Chinalco was still likely to decline the proposal to potentially become a major shareholder of the world’s biggest aluminum maker in terms of production.

A refusal could dampen RusAl’s planned IPO. Sources said 80 percent of the proceeds from the share sale would be used to pay back debt.

“The accounting system in Russia is very different from the ones in Europe, China and Hong Kong. And that was a big reason that the company dropped its London listing plan,” one source said.