* Likes potash sector for long-term fundamentals
* Looking at bolt-on takeovers in variety of sectors
* Takeovers would likely be $5-$10 bln in size
(Adds more details, quotes)
By Eric Onstad
LONDON, Oct 7 Miner Rio Tinto (RIO.L)(RIO.AX) is
interested in possible bolt-on acquisitions in a range of
sectors, including potash, an executive said on Thursday.
The sector has been in the spotlight since BHP Billiton
(BLT.L)(BHP.AX) launched a hostile bid in August for the world's
largest fertiliser producer, Canada's Potash Corp (POT.TO).
Analysts have quoted Rio Chief Executive Tom Albanese as
saying he was interested in expanding in the fertiliser
business, but the firm had made no public statements on the
"Our chief executive has made no secret of the fact that he
believes that the potash sector is an attractive one; it meets
Rio Tinto's long term objectives of a significant sector with
good long-term fundamentals," said Harry Kenyon-Slaney, chief
executive of Rio's minerals and diamond division.
Rio Tinto already has modest exposure to the agriculture
sector since it is a major player in borate, an industrial
mineral used as a crop nutrient, among other uses.
"If you look at all the industrial minerals commodities,
there are many of them, and we constantly look at opportunities
across the whole periodic table. Now we recognise that potash is
an attractive one, but so is titanium dioxide, so are diamonds,
so are borates," he said in an interview ahead of LME Week.
"As always, we're looking for opportunities. They're likely
to be bolt-on acquisitions. I think the media has described that
in terms of $5-$10 billion transactions. Certainly I think
that's consistent with what the chief executive and CFO have
SOLD POTASH PROJECTS IN DOWNTURN
Rio had been developing potash projects, but sold them
during the downturn as it sought to raise cash to pay off a
heavy debt burden.
Last year it sold undeveloped potash assets in Argentina and
Canada to Brazil's Vale (VALE5.SA) for $850 million.
Kenyon-Slaney declined to comment on newspaper reports last
month that a team from Rio visited Russia seeking a possible
stake in potash producer Uralkali (URKA.MM).
U.S.-based Rio Tinto Borax supplies nearly half the world's
refined borates, minerals used in detergents, ceramics, and
silicon glass for flatscreen TVs. Agricultural use of borates is
a modest but growing sector, Kenyon-Slaney said.
"It's one of the smaller sectors of borate consumption, but
it's still material ... It's a growing and important sector in a
number of agriculture sectors."
The sector took a heavy hit during the downturn, but has
bounced back strongly, with Rio's borates output surging 30
percent in the first half.
"We've seen a significant and rapid turnaround in the
borates sector, driven by Asia," he said.
(Reporting by Eric Onstad; Editing by Will Waterman)