July 14, 2017 / 4:08 PM / 4 months ago

Exclusive: Washington Companies in talks to buy Canada's Dominion Diamond -sources

TORONTO (Reuters) - Dominion Diamond Corp of Canada, the world’s third-largest diamond producer by market value, is in advanced and friendly talks with the Washington Companies on a sweetened cash takeover bid, sources told Reuters this week.

Negotiations are currently focused on the two sides settling on a price, said the sources, who declined to speak publicly on the matter. A deal could be announced within weeks, they said.

Trade in Dominion shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange was halted pending news. The stock had gained as much as 4.74 percent following Reuters’ report on the talks.

The U.S.-listed shares soared as much as 6 percent to $13.60, before edging back to $13.44, or up 5.3 percent, in early afternoon trade in New York.

It was unclear how much Washington Companies had increased its initial unsolicited cash proposal, of $13.50 a share, which was the catalyst for Dominion to formally put itself up for sale in March.

At $13.50 a share, the acquisition would be worth nearly $1.09 billion (C$1.38 billion).

Dominion, which owns a majority stake in the Ekati mine and a minority share of the nearby Diavik mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories, had rejected Washington’s initial advance, saying it undervalued the company and that the terms of proposed talks were unacceptable.

Washington Companies is a group of privately held North American mining, industrial and transportation businesses founded by industrialist and entrepreneur Dennis Washington.

Washington Companies declined to comment, while Dominion was not immediately available for comment.

Washington and other interested parties signed confidentiality agreements to review company data, Dominion said on May 1.

The sales process, a rarity in the tightly-controlled global diamond industry, attracted the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), sources told Reuters.

CPPIB, Canada’s biggest public pension fund, was joined in the data room by small Canadian producer Stornoway Diamond.

It was unclear if Stornoway, which held merger talks with Dominion earlier this year, or CPPIB had submitted formal bids.

CPPIB looked at Dominion’s books in 2015, sources said, when the miner worked with investment bank Rothschild & Co to consider ways to boost shareholder value, including a potential sale.

There has been ongoing market speculation that diversified global miners Rio Tinto and Anglo American were also eying Dominion.

Rio operates and holds a 60 percent stake in Diavik, while Anglo’s De Beers unit operates the Gahcho Kue diamond mine in the Northwest Territories.

Dominion hired Toronto-Dominion Bank earlier this year to run the sales process.

Reporting by Susan Taylor and John Tilak; editing by Denny Thomas, G Crosse

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