November 18, 2004
Yesterday, gold prices closed at yet another recent historic high -- $445.10 an ounce. While this isn't literally the highest price the yellow metal has ever fetched, it is a level we haven't seen for more than 16 years. And like the gold rushes of yore, this one is driving people -- or at least a couple of South African companies -- slightly loony.
Last month, we took a look at the budding feud between South Africa's Harmony Gold Mining Company (NYSE: HMY ) and Gold Fields Limited (NYSE: GFI ) . Harmony wants to acquire Gold Fields and is pitching its hostile takeover bid as offering a premium price and the best means of combining its superior ore-extraction technology with Gold Fields' higher-grade ore reserves -- both assertions with which Gold Fields begs to differ. Consequently, Gold Fields' board has already made several public rebuffs to Harmony's advances.
Undeterred, Harmony says it has already consulted both the SEC and its South African counterpart, the Securities Regulation Panel (SRP), regarding certain legal challenges that Gold Fields has raised to its hostile takeover bid. Again according to Harmony, the SRP has ruled in its favor on at least one of those challenges; specifically, that it is not acting in concert with major Gold Fields stakeholder Norilsk Nickel (NQB: NILSY). Harmony has also gone ahead and concluded an "early settlement offer" with holders of 34.9% of Gold Fields' stock, which almost certainly includes the 20% stake held by Russia's Norilsk.
Harmony is now pressing on all fronts to conclude its hostile takeover, issuing a barrage of press releases, contacting Gold Fields shareholders directly and generally taking its fight very, very public in an effort to pressure Gold Fields' board into calling a general meeting of shareholders to put Harmony's buyout offer to a vote. Indeed, in one recent press release, Harmony took the rather presumptuous step of proposing its own date for Gold Fields' general meeting -- and even a proposed date for South Africa's Competition Tribunal to approve the merger.
How this takeover attempt ends still looks to be a toss-up. But one thing is certain: When all is said and done, there is going to be some very bad blood between the winners and losers.
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Fool contributorRich Smithhas no interest in any company mentioned in this article.