Her Name Is Rio and She Dances With Alcan

Call it what you will -- an end run, a curveball, or simply good business -- but Canadian aluminum producer Alcan (NYSE: AL  ) appears to have fended off takeover efforts from its U.S. rival Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) by running into the arms of its white knight: Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) .

Rio Tinto's $38.1 billion cash offer for Alcan would top the total value of Alcoa's cash and stock offer by fully 33%. It would also represent a more than 67% premium to Alcan's price before the early May announcement of Alcoa's overtures. According to the friendly agreement worked out by Rio Tinto and Alcan, Dick Evans, CEO of the latter, would apparently join Rio Tinto's board, head the combined company's aluminum business, and report directly to Tom Albanese, Rio Tinto's CEO.

Rio Tinto is what we Texans call a big unit, with a market value in excess of $100 billion and mining operations in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Its product interests include coal, uranium, gold, industrial minerals, and iron ore.

A marriage of Rio Tinto and Alcan would result in the creation of the world's largest aluminum company. Called Rio Tinto Alcan, the newly combined operation would be headquartered in Alcan's current base, Montreal.

Since Alcoa's offer for Alcan was tendered, it's been anticipated that other, even larger companies could enter the contest for the Canadian company. In addition to Rio Tinto, another possible suitor is BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP  ) , an even larger Australia-based mining company.

But even though I'm a devout Boston Red Sox fan, I'll quote that wonderful New York Yankee great Yogi Berra: "It ain't over till it's over." In theory, Alcoa could now raise its bid for Alcan. However, I'm filing the likelihood of Alcoa matching the $101 per-share cash offer under the category of "unlikely."

At the same time, I'm urging my Foolish friends to monitor the mining industry closely. A Rio Tinto-Alcan combination would follow hard on the heels of Freeport McMoRan's (NYSE: FCX  ) acquisition earlier this year of its own larger metals rival, Phelps Dodge. Perhaps the biggest deals in the metals race are yet to surface.

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Foolish contributor David Lee Smith owns shares in BHP Billiton, but not the other companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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