London: Indian-focused miner Vedanta Plc said on Friday it remained committed to sealing its long-delayed $9.6 billion acquisition of Cairn India, despite delays this week that could set it back at least another month.
The deal, widely seen as a litmus test for foreign investment into India, hit a further hurdle on Wednesday, when the government failed to reach a final decision but instead stuck to its stance in a controversy over royalty payments and referred the deal to a ministerial panel.
Speaking after the group published mixed production numbers for the fourth quarter -- hitting records for aluminium and zinc but posting drops for iron ore and copper from its Zambian operations -- Vedanta chief executive M. S. Mehta said the company would stick to its plan.
“We remain committed to pursuing the Cairn transaction,” Mehta told analysts. He gave no details on Vedanta’s expectations over the timing or outcome of a decision, or on whether Vedanta could have to renegotiate terms and conditions.
Cairn Energy agreed in August to sell a majority stake in Cairn India to Vedanta, but the deal has been delayed due to a dispute over royalty payments by Cairn India’s partner, state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC).
Analysts at Liberum in London said on Friday that even a worst case scenario outcome for Vedanta would see a potential royalty payment undoing a rally in the sector’s shares, “but not excessively diminishing the value of the deal”.
Shares in Vedanta were up 0.95% at 2,454 pence at 03:25 pm on Friday, underperforming a 0.76% rise in the FTSE350 mining index, after two days in the red over uncertainty surrounding the delayed Cairn deal, the largest to date in India’s oil and gas sector.
“Everything is dominated by the Cairn India sale,” said Tom Gidley-Kitchin, analyst at Charles Stanley. “One doesn’t really want to pile into the shares until this is clarified, and that could take another month.”
Cairn and Vedanta -- which will take on substantial debt but also turn itself into a diversified mining group as a result of the deal -- have extended their deadline to 20 May.
Records on some, misses for iron ore, Zambia
Vedanta, which like other miners has benefitted from soaring commodity prices, posted record fourth quarter output for aluminium and for zinc production from its Indian operations.
Output of refined zinc, the group’s most profitable product last year, was 194,000 tonnes from its Indian mines in the fourth quarter ended March 2011, up 29%, with production at its Skorpion Zinc mine in Namibia totalling 37,000 tonnes in the three months.
Iron ore, however, another of the group’s key products and its second most profitable in 2010, was hit by a ban on shipments from the Karnataka and the end of a third party agreement in the state of Orissa last November. Fourth-quarter production fell 21% to 5.5 million tonnes.
The Supreme Court earlier this week lifted the ban on iron ore shipments from Karnataka.
Vedanta said its iron ore capacity expansion programme remains on track to complete by the end of full year 2012-13.
Aluminium output in the fourth quarter rose 7% to 170,000 tonnes.
Copper cathode production at its Indian smelter was in line with the previous quarter at 80,000 tonnes.