After a lengthy and hard-fought slog, the king of the coal mines finally appears poised for victory in its dramatic campaign to acquire Australian big shot Macarthur Coal.

I'll make a long story short. Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) launched its first bid for Macarthur Coal back in March 2010, with a cash offer of $3 billion in U.S. dollars. The offer then rose as high as $3.8 billion in response to a competing bid and fierce opposition from major Macarthur stakeholders like CITIC Resource Holdings and steelmaker POSCO (NYSE: PKX). It seemed everyone wanted a piece of Macarthur Coal. Peabody then trimmed the offer by $500 million as changes to Australia's mining tax structure took shape, and the effort appeared to have reached a dead end.

Since that time, the long-term outlook for metallurgical coal demand has continued to strengthen, and the forecast duration of the broader trend that Peabody dubbed a "global supercycle" has elongated substantially. Although Peabody holds multiple irons in the fire of substantial coal-production growth -- including a successful preliminary bid for a 24% stake in Mongolia's world-class Tavan Tolgoi mine -- the highly favorable outlook for met coal led Peabody back to the drawing board for a renewed campaign to acquire Macarthur Coal.

At the core of Peabody's resilient interest in the Australian miner is Macarthur's world-leading production profile for highly coveted PCI coal. If Macarthur's variety of low volatile, pulverized coal injection (PCI) product were a cut of beef, it would be filet mignon. Macarthur's attributable reserves of the stuff total an eye-catching 175 million tonnes, while attributable resources tip the scales at a globally significant 1.7 billion tonnes. That's why POSCO paid $400 million for a 10% stake back in 2008, and why competing steelmaker ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT) holds a strategic stake as well.

And if all goes according to plan, ArcelorMittal will soon hold a tidy 40% stake. That's because Peabody Energy joined forces with the formidable steelmaker to forge a joint bid, and the sweetened offer of about $5.2 billion has finally secured the backing of Macarthur's board. The dramatic collapse in coal-industry equity valuations of late may have contributed to that new bid's friendly reception. Met-heavy coal producers Walter Energy (NYSE: WLT), Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR), and Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX) have been taken to the woodshed recently; each incurring drops of 30% or more over the past three months.

For ArcelorMittal, the Macarthur deal yields a meaningful amplification of the steelmaker's successful execution of vertical integration up the supply chain to rein-in the impacts of rising material costs. For Peabody Energy, the hard-won victory charts yet another parallel path among multiple avenues of exciting production growth, and further cements the company's strategic position as one of the foremost suppliers of coal to meet the unwavering forecast for growing global coal demand. And for coal investors, the culmination of this deal despite an increasingly uncertain macroeconomic environment heralds the undaunted continuation of a most powerful consolidation trend.

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