ASX falls as iron ore slump hits miners; Transurban buys rest of WestConnex; AusNet receives takeover bid

© Provided by ABC Business Transurban and its partners will own all of Sydney’s WestConnex toll road network, some parts of which remain under construction. (ABC News: John Gunn)

Mining stocks have been leading the losses on the Australian share market in early trade, while utilities has been the only sector gaining ground, as AusNet Services shares surge on news of a takeover offer.

By 10:30am AEST, the benchmark ASX 200 index was 1.1 per cent lower, at 7,322 points.

The worst-performing sector was materials, led by steep declines for the major iron ore miners, inlcuding Fortescue (-3.8pc), BHP (-3.3pc) and Rio Tinto (-2.3pc).

Iron ore prices tumbled last week, due to rising risks to Chinese demand.

“China’s disappointing retail sales and weaker industrial production raised concerns about slowing economic growth,” ANZ analysts wrote.

“Iron ore prices tanked on intensifying pressure in China to reduce steel output to curb carbon emissions.

“Rising risks of a substantial slowdown in property following the Evergrande crisis aided the bearish sentiment.”

Energy stocks were also weaker, with falls for Santos (-2.5pc), Oil Search (-2.1pc), Yalcoal (3.6pc) and Whitehaven (-2.6pc).

The weak start to the week on the local share market followed falls overseas on Friday, with the S&P 500 losing 0.9 per cent in US trade, ahead of this week’s Federal Reserve meeting.

Transurban to control WestConnex

The recent spate of merger and acquisition activity — fuelled by record-low interest rates and the downward pressure COVID-19 has placed on some asset valuations — has continued, with two deals in the infrastructure space.

A consortium led by Transurban will pay $11.1 billion to take full control of Sydney’s WestConnex, giving it greater dominance over the city’s toll road network.

Transurban already owns 51 per cent of the WestConnex network, along with AustralianSuper, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, under the group Sydney Transport Partners.

Sydney Transport Partners has succeeded in gaining full control of the toll road, after the NSW government auctioned its remaining 49 per cent stake.

Transurban shares were placed in a trading halt ahead of the announcement.

“WestConnex is one of the largest road infrastructure projects in the world,”  Transurban chief executive Scott Charlton said.

“We feel privileged to take Sydney Transport Partners’ holding in this critical asset to 100 per cent.”

Transurban said it would raise $4.22 billion of new equity to help fund the deal.

AusNet surges on bid

Shares in AusNet surged more than 20 per cent, after the powergrid owner received an improved, $9.6 billion takeover offer.

AusNet has agreed to open its books to an affiliate of Canadian infrastructure investor Brookfield.

The owner and operator of Victoria’s electricity transmission network, AusNet said its revised bid came after it had rejected two bids last month.

“Should Brookfield make a binding offer at A$2.50 per share then … it is AusNet board’s current intention to unanimously recommend that shareholders vote in favour of the proposal in the absence of a superior proposal,” the company said in a statement.

AusNet was the best-performing stock on the ASX 200 in early trade.


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