Australian coal miners Whitehaven, Aston discuss A$4.65 bn merger

Australian coal miners Whitehaven Coal and Aston Resources are in discussions over a potential A$4.65 billion ($4.76 billion) merger, the companies today said, in what would potentially create the country's largest independent coal company.

Australian coal companies have recently been the target of overseas takeovers, with US miner Peabody Energy leading the biggest deal last month in acquiring Macarthur Coal for nearly $5 billion.

Sydney-based Whitehaven, valued around $3.5 billion, had hired Goldman Sachs in October 2010 to run an auction for its acquisition, in which 20 buyers have shown interest.

Among the interested bidders for the ASX-listed company were Anil Dhirubhai Ambani-promoted Reliance Power, a consortium of Korea Resources Corporation and Daewoo, China's Shenhua Energy, Yanzhou Coal and China Coal.

Brisbane-based Whitehaven ended the process in May 2011, saying the offers it received did not match its expectations.

Merging the two companies would combine Whitehaven's mines with Aston's Maules Creek project, both located at the Gunnedah Basin, and their respective rail and port capacitoes. The combined value of the two coal miners is estimated at $4.76 billion.