* Qube, partners buy 19.99 pct stake late Thursday
* Qube wants Asciano ports, partners want Asciano rail
* Brookfield bid looks in doubt after Qube buy
* Investor expects some form of takeover
* Qube is run by former Asciano ports chief (.)
By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The dulled prospect of a takeover of Australian ports and rail operator Asciano Ltd were revived on Friday after local rival Qube Holdings Ltd and partners revealed they had bought a one-fifth stake and wanted to buy Asciano assets.
The anti-monopoly regulator this month cast doubt on a $6.5 billion takeover by Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management Inc after saying competition could be threatened by Brookfield already owning railways Asciano’s trains run on.
That deal looks less likely now Qube and partners own 19.99 percent of Asciano. The amount is short of the 20 percent that would trigger a compulsory takeover offer, but means Qube needs little support from other shareholders to reach the 25 percent of votes required to block the deal, which it said it opposes.
A Brookfield spokesman said the company has yet to decide on a response. Asciano in a statement said it was aware of the purchase and would inform investors of material developments.
The move buys smaller player Qube time to negotiate the fate of Asciano with its partners or even Brookfield, and potentially secure the assets it covets - Asciano’s ports.
With Qube’s interest, there is less chance of a takeover being derailed by antitrust concerns, said Paul Xiradis, chief executive of fund manager Ausbil Dexia which owns Asciano stock. “At the end of the day, there’s going to be a transaction.”
Asciano became the target of Australia’s biggest-ever buyout by a Canadian firm in July. Its shares jumped after the approach but have not matched Brookfield’s A$9.15 bid, and dropped after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s comments.
The shares rose 8.5 percent on Friday to A$8.20 as investors considered that, regardless of whether the regulator blocks Brookfield’s bid, Qube may buy Asciano’s ports while its stock-purchasing partners buy the rest. Qube shares rose 4 percent.
Asciano, which has rail assets across Australia and ports in 40 locations, has been seen as attractive because it is nearing completion of a five-year investment program aimed at cutting costs by automating cargo handling.
Its appeal, like for other Australian firms, has been helped by a 13 percent fall in the local currency this year, led by concerns of slowing demand from top export partner China.
In a statement, Qube, whose chairman Chris Corrigan led stevedoring firm Patrick Corp Ltd for 16 years until Asciano bought it in 2006, said it has “no present interest in acquiring any of Asciano’s businesses beyond the Patrick businesses”.
It said New York-based Global Infrastructure Partners and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which helped Qube buy the Asciano stake, “have entered into this transaction to allow them to participate in the ultimate ownership of the (Asciano‘s) rail business”. (Reporting by Byron Kaye and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Christopher Cushing)