Mineral Resources has bought a 12.3 per cent stake in Azure Minerals, adding to intrigue around the takeover target after Hancock Prospecting also bought a big stake.
Azure confirmed market speculation when it announced late on Friday that the Chris Ellison-led MinRes had bought 55.8 million shares, or 12.3 per cent of the stock.
It comes after Gina Rinehart’s private company bought an 18 per cent stake one week earlier.
That, in turn, came shortly after Chilean company SQM negotiated a friendly takeover priced at $3.52 per share, valuing Azure at $1.6 billion.
Azure’s share price has traded above that level all week, peaking today at $4.05 before closing trade at $3.85.
Speculation of a rival takeover offer was a key driver behind the share price run.
SQM’s scheme of arrangement will switch to an off-market takeover offer priced at $3.50 per share if any party acquires a 19 per cent stake in Azure.
As such, the acquisitions by MinRes and Hancock will fuel speculation about whether they are related parties, which would trigger SQM’s alternative offer.
The two companies have joint venture interests in the Pilbara, where they both have iron ore mining operations.
They have also been busily acquiring stakes in several promising lithium exploration companies.
MinRes, which already has lithium mining operations, bought a stake in Wildcat Resources this month, adding to shares in Delta Lithium and Global Lithium, plus the company is buying the Bald Hill mine out of receivership.
Hancock’s biggest play is a 19.9 per cent stake in Liontown Resources, which is half way through developing the Kathleen Valley lithium mine.
Its buying was believed to be a big factor in US company Albemarle’s decision to walk away from an agreed $6.6 billion takeover of Liontown.
That triggered a collapse in Liontown’s share price.
As well as the Liontown stake, Hancock has several exploration joint ventures in the lithium sector in WA.
The Azure scenario has loose parallels with last year’s takeover battle for Perth Basin gas play Warrego Energy.
In that case, MinRes bought a large minority stake before eventually accepting a successful takeover offer by Hancock.
MinRes maintained at the time it was acting independently of Hancock.
The keen takeover interest in Azure caps an amazing year for the company, which was trading around 20 cents per share early this year before reporting spectacular exploration results at its Andover lithium prospect in the Pilbara.
Famed explorer Mark Creasy has a 13.2 per cent stake in Azure as well as a 40 per cent direct holding in Andover.