Current Price: £0.552
Offer Price: £0.675 (updated to c. £0.725)
Expiration Date: TBD
This merger arbitrage situation involves the takeover of lithium mining project listed in the UK. It involves a fair share of political/regulatory risk, hence the large spread. There are some interesting arguments suggesting that the market might be overestimating the regulatory risk.
On the 6th of May, Bacanora Lithium has announced a non-binding offer by its largest shareholder and world’s largest lithium producer Ganfeng International Trading (US$24bn market cap). Consideration stands at £0.675/share in cash. Ganfeng owns 29% of BCN and is definitely a serious and credible buyer. PUSU date to announce a firm offer is set for the 3rd of June. Scheme mergers in the UK require approval from a majority of shareholders in number and 75% of the votes cast in favor.
The main caveat and major reason for the spread seems to be risk of UK regulators derailing the transaction. Apparently, the British are concerned that their transition to renewable energy and EV could be impeded by Chinese control over the relevant minerals (cobalt, lithium). The government has recently released a bill updating its National Security and Investment Act and strengthening the foreign investment regulator’s powers to scrutinize, impose conditions or block transactions, which it considers to be threatening to the national security. Reportedly, certain politicians (e.g. former leader of the conservative party) are urging ministers to block the transaction:
There cannot be a better candidate for the first ministerial call-in under the new legislation than this deeply worrying acquisition that risks handing control over a critical resource of the future to a genocidal state.
The government is currently examining the creation of a national stockpile of rare metals.
Moreover, it has been reported that certain retail shareholders, which own a combined 5% of BCN are also opposing the takeover and are urging regulators to block it.
This regulatory risk is difficult to handicap, however, there are several points worth considering:
- Ganfeng has been a long-term shareholder and partner of Bacanora. It currently owns 17.41% of the company, while its recent BCN equity subscription should close shortly raising Ganfeng’s stake to 29%. Moreover, Ganfeng also owns 50% of BCN flagship lithium project – Sonora Lithium and has already subscribed for 50% of its lithium production in Stage 1 of production and up to 75% of Stage 2. The project itself is located in Mexico. All of these facts suggest that regulatory concerns towards this specific merger could be overstated – this is definitely not some kind of an “out of the blue” takeover of a British lithium mine by a complete outsider from China. First of all, Ganfeng already owns a third of the company and is now only acquiring the remaining 50% in the Sonora project. Furthermore, the mine is not even in the UK and most of its production is already “promised” to Chinese (Ganfeng) and Japanese partners (Hanwa subscribed for the remaining 50% of stage 1 production). Stating that this takeover could somehow negatively impact the UK’s transition to EV clearly seems like an exaggeration.
- Shareholder approval is unlikely to be a problem here. Aside from Ganfeng’s 29% stake, the other 3 major shareholders own about 25% of the company and are sitting on considerable profits relative to their initial share purchases. No opposition has been voiced by any of them. If the regulatory hurdle passes, I think most retail shareholders are likely to give in and approve the merger.
- As mentioned above, the buyer is a credible and very well financed company. This is a small acquisition to them, however, Ganfeng has clearly shown a strong interest in Bacanora and likely better than anyone understands the value of the Sonora project. I think that at this point it’s very unlikely that the buyer will walk away from this deal.
- I am not an expert in the mining industry, however, Sonora’s feasibility study numbers (presentation) look quite impressive – the mine is projected to have over 200 years of mine life, packs 8.8Mt of lithium resources with the estimated pre-tax NPV (8% yield) at US$1.25bn (vs current market cap of US$258m). This year has been great for the lithium sector and BCN states that the global lithium supply should grow at 19% CAGR (as compared to 11% during 2015-2018) to reach the estimated demand in 2025. Estimated production costs are also on the low end of comparable peers (2025 forecast):
The company owns 50% of Sonora Lithium project in Mexico, the other 50% is owned Ganfeng (the buyer of BCN). A feasibility study has already been finished, while financing for the construction has been secured. The company expects to start stage 1 construction in 2021 and start producing battery-grade lihtium products in 2023.
The company also owns a number other minor mining assets and has 44% stake in Zinnwald Platinum, which owns 50% in Zinnwald Lithium Project (Czech Republic).
- M&G acquired most of its stake (13.5% of total) in 2019 at £0.25/share.
- Robeco apparently bought shares only recently (Feb 8th) at around £0.45-£0.46/share.
- Hanwa is a Japanese trading house and strategic partner of Bacanora (subscribed for 50% of stage 1 production). Bought it’s stake in May 2017 at around 45p.