Australia’s richest person raises her stake in fight against US titan for globally important lithium mining behemoth

Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart raised her stake again in lithium producer Liontown Resources, giving her enough leverage to possibly block US miner Albemarle Corp’s US$4.3 billion proposed takeover of the company.

Australia’s richest person raised her stake to 16.7 per cent, becoming Liontown’s largest shareholder, her company Hancock Prospecting said on Friday.

“Hancock welcomes the opportunity to participate in the Kathleen Valley project as a shareholder, and have an influence on the company’s overall future direction – including where decisions are to be made by shareholders,” the company added.

Liontown’s Kathleen Valley lithium project in Western Australia is regarded as one of the world’s most promising deposits of the metal used in electric vehicles and smartphones. The developer has already agreed to supply US car giant Ford with the battery raw material

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Rinehart has not said publicly whether she supports or opposes the takeover bid and a spokesperson declined to comment on whether the increased stake would be used to block Albemarle’s bid.

But she has steadily built a position in Liontown since early September, when Albemarle, the world’s biggest lithium producer, was granted access to Liontown’s books after revising a takeover proposal.

Liontown and Albemarle declined to comment on the increased Hancock stake.

The Big Sandy lithium project is an open-pit lithium mining project being developed by Australia-based Hawkstone Mining in Arizona, US. Photo: SCMP

Albemarle’s latest bid of AU$3 (US$1.91) per share, made through a scheme of arrangement, requires 75 per cent support from Liontown investors voting in the ballot. A stake of between 15 per cent and 20 per cent can often become a blocking stake depending on investor turnout on the day of the shareholder meeting.

Albemarle’s declared its bid ‘best and final’, which means the current offer cannot be raised and the bidder would have to walk away for some time before returning with a sweetened deal.

News of the increased Hancock stake came after Australian market trading closed, but Liontown ended trade up 1 per cent at AUS$2.99 per share. The stock has rallied from around AUS$2.62 when the latest Albemarle bid emerged in early September.

Albemarle was granted four weeks of due diligence from September 11 and local media reports said that access was due to expire on Friday.

Gina Rinehart, Australia’s wealthiest person, has raised her stake in lithium producer Liontown Resources. Photo: AFP

The US-based firm initially bid AUS$2.20 per share for Liontown in October last year, before sweetening its bid to AUS$2.35 and then AUS$2.50, which were rejected by the takeover target’s board in March.

Hancock said it had no plans to nominate directors at Liontown’s upcoming annual general meeting in November but remained open to doing so in the future, especially “if its strategic stake continues to increase towards 19.9 per cent,” the company said in a statement.

Hancock will have to declare its intention for its investment in Liontown if its stake goes above 19.9 per cent.

The recent buying means Hancock replaces previous largest shareholder Liontown Chairman Tim Goyder, who holds 14.97 per cent of the miner.

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