Monday, June 26, 2006

Commodities boom top ?

In the past, bull market ends have been marked by aggressive M&A activity with buyers getting involved in dogfights and winners losing by paying more than they should.
Today's and this past week's activity points to a top in the oil/metals/minerals sector.
  • Mittal made a sweetened offer for Arecelor which finally was accepted! A deal for sure, but at what price ?
  • Anadarko Petroleum (APC) last week announced buyouts of Kerr-McGee (KMG) and Western Gas Resources (WGR) for a combined $22 billion in cash, taking on debt to finance the purchases. Anadarko has grossly overpaid, with premiums above 40% in both cases. Anadarko was itself seen for long as a takeover target, but now it becomes too big to be swallowed by most.
  • Phelps Dodge (PD), the copper leader, is set to announce that it is buying Falconbridge and Inco for a combined $40 billion, thus getting into nickel. Inco had made an offer for Falconbridge just a few weeks ago, and in fact the final clearance from the U.S justice department for that deal had come in only last Friday! Falconbridge had meanwhile received a hostile bid from Xstrata and Inco had received a hostile bid from Teck Cominco. Is your head reeling yet ?

    Among these, the only one that I ever seriously considered adding to my portfolio was Inco, but I could never place a fair-value on it.
There are still a few smaller players in oil and natural gas, especially the latter, that are ripe for the picking. Similarly, in the mining sector, silver, platinum, palladium miners have so far not been approached, but I think it is just a matter of time. While the deal flow will continue, I would say that this is the top for the foreseeable future. I realize that I am going against expert-opinion here, opinion that says we are in a multi-decade commodities boom. I think we have seen the best of it already.

I have been buying slowly into smaller natural gas players as well as silver/platinum/palladium players, but as usual, only when I see bargains as indicated by book value, insider activity and dividends.


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