Anglo’s New Billionaire Backer Agarwal Says He’s No Activist

  • Agarwal says has no plans to buy Anglo’s South African mines
  • Indian billionaire is buying a 13% stake for $2.5 billion

Anglo American Plc’s new billionaire shareholder said he has no intention of behaving like an activist investor after surprising the mining industry by paying $2.5 billion for a 13 percent stake earlier this month.

“At the moment, I’ve come in purely as an investor on my personal capacity and that is the intention,” Anil Agarwal, who is also the founder and controlling shareholder in Indian resource giant Vedanta Resources Plc, said in an interview in Lausanne, Switzerland. “We’ve never been an activist. We’re purely an investor and we are going to support the management.”

Anil Agarwal

Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

Agarwal’s ultimate intentions after unveiling a complex transaction to become Anglo’s second-biggest shareholder remain unclear. While the 64-year-old has said his stake is a personal investment, the unusual deal that Agarwal structured has led analysts to speculate that he might be planning to force a break up of or a merger with the century-old miner.

He isn’t using his fortune to buy the shares, instead borrowing from bond investors through a three-year note paying a coupon of 4.125 percent. The structure means he effectively rents the shares until the bond matures, with little benefit from a rising stock price.

Agarwal said he was buying the stake through his holding company, Volcan Investments Ltd. It has a controlling stake in Vedanta Resources, which in turn controls Vedanta Ltd. and Hindustan Zinc. After a failed approach to merge Hindustan Zinc Ltd. with Anglo last year, Agarwal said the combination was a “good match” and that “one and one wasn’t going to be two, but 11.”

Agarwal said Wednesday that former Anglo chief Cynthia Carroll is no longer working with Vedanta, having left to pursue “something else.’’ Carroll, who was hired by Agarwal in 2015 to advise on metals and deals, wasn’t involved in the Anglo share purchase. He also said that he hasn’t met with any other Anglo investors and isn’t interested in becoming chairman as a replacement for the outgoing John Parker.

“I believe that this management -- Mark Cutifani and John Parker -- is very strong,” Agarwal said.

Agarwal will be treated like any other shareholder, Anglo’s Parker said Wednesday at the FT Commodities Global Summit in Lausanne.

Anglo American, a company founded by the storied Oppenheimer dynasty in South Africa a century ago, is one of the world’s top five mining groups, alongside BHP Billiton Ltd., Rio Tinto Group, Vale SA and Glencore Plc. Its key assets include copper mines in Chile, iron ore operations in Brazil and South Africa as well as De Beers, the iconic diamond producer.

Anglo’s shares slumped to a record low in London in early 2016 as a rout in commodities sparked concerns about its debt position. Chief Executive Officer Cutifani announced a plan to radically shrink the company through asset sales, but reversed the strategy earlier this year after recovering commodity prices revived profits.

Agarwal said earlier Wednesday at the FT conference that his investment has nothing to do with Vedanta and he has no intention to buy any of Anglo’s assets in South Africa or elsewhere.

While Anglo has scrapped a wider disposal program, the future of its coal and iron ore assets in South Africa remains less clear.

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