Make Way in the Mines for Cliffs Natural Resources

While Americans mourn the passing of an icon with the loss of Anheuser-Busch to Belgian brewer InBev, another American corporation that's even older than the king of beers is transforming into a king among American miners.

In a transformational move, Cleveland-Cliffs (NYSE: CLF  ) has announced that it will acquire coal mining competitor Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR  ) in a friendly stock-and-cash transaction worth nearly $10 billion. Alpha shareholders will receive 0.95 shares of Cleveland-Cliffs plus $22.23 cash per share, all told a roughly 35% premium as of the deal's announcement.

Management estimates that the resulting company, to be called Cliffs Natural Resources, will rake in $1.9 billion in pro forma 2008 EBITDA, and $4.7 billion for 2009. That 2009 estimate is a portly 38% above the $3.4 billion combined total of analysts' projections for the two companies.

The move is the latest in a string of key acquisitions that have catapulted Cleveland-Cliffs into a global player for both iron ore and metallurgical coal. By acquiring a company with the largest market share for met coal in the U.S., Cleveland-Cliffs has achieved a nearly even mix of iron ore and coal reserves. With more than 500 million tons of met coal reserves out of 915 million tons of total coal, Cliffs Natural Resources out-muscles closest rivals CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX  ) and Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE  ) .

With its 50/50 blend of coal and iron ore, Cliffs Natural Resources will be well positioned to take advantage of the global boom in demand for steel. Both of these key ingredients for steel production are in tight supply globally and have seen prices rising dramatically. I believe these trends will remain in place for the foreseeable future, and I view the resulting punishment of Cleveland-Cliffs' shares as decidedly shortsighted.

Given the company's robust outlook for earnings growth, I wonder what might be next for this emerging giant. Though I'm loath to suggest it while Americans still feel the loss of their Bud, Cliffs Natural Resources could find itself the target of a mining giant like Brazil's Vale (NYSE: RIO  ) before it gets too far into its own history.

Further Foolishness:

The "Coal" tag within the Motley Fool CAPS community lists 20 coal companies. Find out what other investors are saying about the stocks you're watching, or share your Foolish thoughts with us. CAPS is free and fun!

Fool contributor Christopher Barker captains yachts and writes about stocks. He can be found in the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He owns shares of Cleveland-Cliffs, Massey Energy, and Vale. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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