Rio’s Revamp Hints at Potential $9 Billion BHP-Style Spinoff

  • Energy and Minerals unit primed for an offer: Bernstein’s Gait
  • BHP spinoff South32 has outperformed parent on share markets

Rio Tinto Group looks like it’s putting about $9 billion of unwanted assets from coal and uranium to Canadian iron ore into a single basket ready to spin off, according to Sanford C. Bernstein.

Incoming Chief Executive Officer Jean-Sebastien Jacques on Tuesday revamped the four key divisions of the world’s second-biggest mine operator. The new Energy and Minerals segment features coal and uranium mines, salt, borates and titanium-dioxide businesses, and Rio’s Iron Ore Co. of Canada unit.

Jacques’ shakeup of Rio follows the move by larger rival BHP Billiton Ltd. last year to create South32 Ltd. by hiving off manganese, coal, alumina and nickel assets it no longer needed and offering them to investors.

“This seems like a portfolio of unwanted assets that could be ready for a spinoff,” Paul Gait, a London-based analyst at Bernstein, said in a note. “This division looks a lot like the South32 assets previously in BHP’s portfolio.” A spokesman for Rio declined to comment.

South32 shares, traded in Sydney, London and Johannesburg, were distributed to BHP investors. Since starting trade in May 2015, the stock is down 18 percent in Sydney, beating BHP’s 37 percent slide and a 22 percent drop in Rio.

Rio’s shares rose 1.4 percent to A$44.82 at 10:47 a.m. in Sydney on Wednesday. South32 jumped 2.3 percent and BHP advanced 0.9 percent.

Tyler Broda, an RBC Capital Markets analyst, agreed Rio will hold higher quality assets in some of its other divisions but was cautious on a possible spinoff.

“There will definitely be assets in the Energy and Minerals division that are not as core,” he said. Yet, with Rio’s reliance on iron ore for earnings, there may be “benefits from maintaining some of these other potentially counter-cyclical commodities like uranium.”

The Energy and Minerals assets are seen posting $1.2 billion of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization next year, Bernstein says. At eight times earnings, the unit would be valued at $9.3 billion, Gait estimates.

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