Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Tata Steel's U.K. Unit Said to Attract Hebei Iron & Steel

  • Company may compete with Liberty House, Excalibur, JSW
  • Tata has shortlisted seven potential buyers for the U.K.

Tata Steel Ltd.’s U.K. assets have attracted interest from Hebei Iron & Steel Group as the company shortlists bidders for the money-losing operations, people familiar with the matter said.

Indian producer JSW Steel Ltd. is also weighing a bid, which would put it in competition with Liberty House Group and Excalibur Steel U.K. Ltd., a buyout team led by a Tata executive, said the people, who asked not to be named because the deliberations are private.

Tata Steel announced in March it was considering the sale of its U.K. operations. The business includes its Port Talbot plant in South Wales along with other assets around the U.K. Producers in China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of steel, are eyeing alternate markets as local demand falls.

A spokesman for Tata Steel didn’t answer calls seeking comment. Three calls to the press office of Hebei Iron & Steel Group went unanswered Wednesday. The group’s publicly-traded arm, Hebei Iron & Steel Co., didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment. JSW is evaluating opportunities for U.K. steel facilities and said it’s premature to comment further in a statement Tuesday.

Tata Steel has shortlisted seven potential buyers to the next stage of sale process, the company said Monday. The expressions of interest were for the whole U.K. business. Bidders that only wanted part of the operations won’t be advanced, the company said. Buyout firm Greybull Capital LLP last month agreed to buy Tata Steel’s Scunthorpe steelworks in England as well as mills in Teesside and northern France.

Hebei agreed to buy Serbia’s sole steelmaker Zelezara Smederevo for 46 million euros ($52.4 million) in April. Producing metal products in Europe may also help Chinese companies reduce accusations of dumping, a practice where companies sell goods at below market cost in other countries, driving prices down, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. European steelmakers are struggling with prices that have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2008 and a glut in global supply.

"For any new buyer the plants would be attractive as they would have to pay a nominal value to buy it and the expectation is that the debt and pension liabilities may stay with Tata Steel," said Goutam Chakraborty, an analyst at Emkay Global Financial Services, by phone from Mumbai. "The U.K. unit being a stressed asset would offer bidders a much cheaper alternative then buying an asset in their local geographies."

Shares of Tata Steel fell 0.4 percent to 328.50 rupees as of 11:12 a.m. in Mumbai, while JSW Steel dropped 0.6 percent to 1,283.85 rupees. Hebei Iron & Steel rose 0.7 percent.

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