BHP Billiton Eyes Its Prey

I can't prove it statistically, but I'll wager that there are cats frequenting sandboxes that are less busy than the powers that be at BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP  ) these days. Within hours, the company not only released its results for the second six months of 2007 -- they're less obsessive about chronicling performance in Australia than we are -- but also formalized its hostile bid for Anglo-Australian rival Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) .

Let's start with the latter event, since it'll easily be more important to the two companies' respective futures. Hours before an effective paint-or-get-off-the-ladder deadline, BHP offered 3.4 of its shares for every one of Rio Tinto's. That's up from an earlier three-for-one proposal and was worth more than $147 billion, based on BHP's Monday's closing price.

Apparently, BHP didn't view the recent purchase of a 12% stake in Rio Tinto by Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) and state-owned Aluminum Corp. of China (NYSE: ACH  ) , or Chinalco, as a deal breaker. Nevertheless, metals customers in China, Japan, and elsewhere have expressed concern about a combination of the world's largest and third-largest mining companies. Brazil's Vale (NYSE: RIO  ) currently sits between the pair as the second largest. For its part, Rio Tinto continues to spurn BHP's advances, saying that its plans would change only with an offer that "fully reflects the value of Rio Tinto."

On the earnings front, BHP's biannual results were generally sound, while "attributable profit" dipped to $6.0 billion, from $6.2 billion, on a softer U.S. dollar and higher costs. Perhaps more importantly, as the company noted, "We achieved record or equal record production for seven major commodities and significantly increased production across a further six commodities."

So BHP has intensified the Rio Tinto chase, although the "chasee" is still playing hard to get. My bet is that the pursuer will ultimately land the pursued -- albeit at an even higher price -- creating a massive and globally dominant entity. For that reason, I urge Fools to keep an eye on developments and perhaps nibble away at a BHP position. Even if Rio evades BHP's clutches, you'll still be part owner of a huge company that's right in the middle of the world's escalating demand for natural resources.

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