Rio Tinto Spurns Chinalco for BHP

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As they say, it's all over but the shouting. A deal between Aluminum Corp. of China (NYSE: ACH  ) -- or Chinalco -- and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) has been scuttled.

In its place, Rio Tinto will conduct a rights offering among its shareholders and form an iron ore joint venture with Australian rival BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP  ) . The former will permit its shareholders to buy 21 shares of Rio Tinto stock for every 40 shares they currently own. The approximately $21 billion that Rio will receive from the pair of transactions will permit it to handle the $19 billion in loan repayments it has coming due this year and next.

The loans relate to the little more than $38 billion taken down when Rio handily topped Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) in a quest to purchase Canada's Alcan two years ago. At the time, Rio had little difficulty obtaining the funds from a syndicate of banks. But as we all know, the times have changed dramatically, and the company would have had difficulty with its repayment schedule, had it not generated outside funding.

The Rio Tinto-Chinalco deal would have raised about $19.5 billion for Rio and doubled Chinalco's stake in the miner. Early last year, with BHP looking to acquire Rio, Chinalco and Alcoa teamed up to help thwart that acquisition by acquiring a 9% interest in Rio Tinto. The latest deal would have had Chinalco investing $7.2 billion in Rio in exchange for convertible bonds, along with putting another $12.3 billion into positions in Rio Tinto mining assets.

Instead, Rio Tinto will receive about $15.2 from its rights offering, along with another $5.8 billion from BHP Billiton related to the formation of the iron ore joint venture. Probably as a salve to the regulators, while the companies will operate their iron ore operations as one unit, their marketing efforts will remain separate. Along with Brazil's Vale (NYSE: VALE  ) , they will control the vast majority of the world's quality iron ore.

If I had to pick a winner in this chain of events, it would likely be BHP. It will gain access to Rio Tinto's iron ore, which was its main interest in acquiring Rio in the first place. And the two companies believe they can extract as much as $10 billion in savings from their combined operation.

Given all that, were I a Fool with an appetite for minerals and metals -- which, in reality, I am -- I wouldn't let BHP out of my sight.

To mine some related Foolishness:

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't have financial interests in any of the companies mentioned above. But that doesn't mean he doesn't welcome your questions or comments. The Fool has a steel-strong disclosure policy.

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