Aston Sells Itochu 15% of Australian Coal Project to Help Fund Development

Itochu Corp., Japan’s fourth largest trading company, agreed to buy a A$345 million ($339 million) stake in Aston Resources Ltd.’s Maules Creel project in New South Wales state to secure supplies.

Itochu signed an agreement to buy a 15 percent stake in the project in the Gunnedah Basin, Aston said today in a statement. The trading company may buy an additional stake of as much as 10 percent depending on exclusive talks slated to end on June 14, Brisbane, Queensland-based Aston said. Itochu spokesman Yasuhiro Terashita confirmed the deal.

Overseas companies have targeted coal producers in Australia, the world’s biggest exporter of the fuel. Prices are expected to gain until 2012, according to forecasts from Deutsche Bank AG. Itochu will also gain exclusive marketing rights for Maules Creek coal in Japan and have the right to buy as much as 15 percent of the coal produced there, Aston said.

“Aston now has a range of options to fully fund the development of the project,” Chief Executive Officer Todd Hannigan said in the statement. “Aston intends to leverage this optionality to achieve a highly competitive funding package.”

The deal is subject to approval from Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board. Upon completion, Aston and Itochu will form the Maules Creek joint venture.

Maules Creek has proved reserves of 151 million metric tons of steelmaking and power station coal, according to a Nov. 22 presentation from Aston.

Itochu agreed to buy a 2.75 percent stake in Aston for A$33 million and obtained exclusive negotiation rights to acquire a stake in the coal project, the company said Aug. 9.

The Japanese trader plans to source 15 million tons of coal from mines it has stakes in by March 2016, almost double the 8 million tons in the last fiscal year.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elisabeth Behrmann in Sydney at ebehrmann1@bloomberg.net; Masumi Suga in Tokyo at msuga@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Hobbs at ahobbs4@bloomberg.net

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