BHP readies charm offensive to woo Potash owners

Thu Aug 26, 2010 2:15pm EDT
 
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By Michael Smith and Alison Leung

SYDNEY/HONG KONG (Reuters) - BHP Billiton's chief executive flies to North America this week to mount a charm offensive to woo Potash Corp shareholders, as a potential Chinese rival bidder reiterated it was closely watching BHP's $39 billion offer.

After dousing expectations he would sweeten his hostile bid for the fertilizer giant, BHP Chief Executive Marius Kloppers and his other executives were also preparing to brief their own investors on four continents after delivering the miner's richest half-year profit in two years.

Kloppers was expected to spend the coming weeks shuttling between Europe and North America, one source familiar with the situation said. BHP, the world's largest miner, refuses to comment on the movements of Kloppers or other senior executives.

Investors said he is expected to be in New York next week. The trip is technically to meet with BHP shareholders here, but the two companies have a significant overlap in their North American shareholder base.

That includes top Potash Corp shareholders Capital World Investors, RBC Asset Management, BlackRock, and the CPP Investment Board, which invests for the Canada Pension Plan.

The chief executive is under huge pressure to clinch his first major deal after three years on the job, and sources who have worked with him on previous deals said he was likely to be at the front line of any efforts to win over Potash shareholders.

Kloppers has sought to discourage expectations he might raise the $130-a-share cash bid, but Potash Corp's shares have traded well above that level, suggesting that investors believe BHP will eventually boost its offer or that a rival bidder will emerge.

Potash shares were down 27 cents to $145.33 on Thursday in New York, still about 11.8 percent above the BHP bid. BHP's London-listed shares rose 1.3 percent on Thursday.   Continued...

 
<p>Marius Kloppers, BHP Billiton Chief Executive, poses for photographs in central London August 25, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville</p>