* Shenhua has not offered to sell assets, Whitehaven says
* Shenhua has not made any takeover proposal
* Whitehaven sees benefits in combining assets with Shenhua
* Whitehaven shares jump as much as 4 pct (Adds Whitehaven comment)
MELBOURNE, Dec 19 (Reuters) - China’s Shenhua Group has held talks with Australia’s Whitehaven Coal Ltd about a potential corporate or asset deal, but has not made any proposals to sell its assets to Whitehaven nor made a takeover offer, Whitehaven said on Wednesday.
Whitehaven made the comment after a newspaper said Shenhua, China’s biggest coal producer, had recently discussed taking an equity stake in Whitehaven in return for Shenhua’s Watermark coal assets in New South Wales.
Whitehaven said it routinely has talks with other coal companies about opportunities, including corporate and asset transactions.
“Whitehaven has had such discussions at various times with Shenhua, because of the obvious potential synergies between the assets of each company in the Gunnedah Basin,” it said in a statement in response to the report in the Australian Financial Review.
“Whitehaven has had no proposals from Shenhua to sell its assets to Whitehaven, nor has there been any proposal from Shenhua to acquire Whitehaven,” it said.
Whitehaven has been under pressure after its biggest shareholder, electrician-turned-mining magnate Nathan Tinkler, scrapped a $5.5 billion bid to take Whitehaven private earlier this year.
Tinkler offered A$5.20 a share for Whitehaven in July. The stock has since sunk to A$3.21, valuing the company at A$3.3 billion ($3.5 billion), weighed down by weak prices for thermal coal and worries that Tinkler may be forced to sell his 19.4 percent stake in the company as he struggles to pay off debts.
Shenhua expressed interest in bidding for Whitehaven nearly two years ago, but that auction was called off last year after Whitehaven failed to secure an acceptable offer.
The Australian miner then went on to acquire Tinkler’s Aston Resources for $2.2 billion earlier this year, taking over the prized Maules Creek coal project.
Whitehaven shares rose as much as 4 percent on Wednesday after the company confirmed it has held talks with Shenhua. Its shares touched a high of A$3.34 and last traded at A$3.29. ($1 = 0.9487 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Chris Gallagher)