* Agrium’s $1.1 bln AWB purchase seen unaffected
* Australia clears takeover by Canadian gold miner on Thurs
* Fodder for opponents Singapore Exchange takeover of ASX
By Michael Smith
SYDNEY, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Corporate Canada’s love affair with Australian assets is unlikely to be tarnished by Ottawa’s decision to reject BHP Billiton’s $39 billion bid for Potash.
Canadian firms have made bids for more than $10 billion of Australian agricultural, resource and toll-road assets this year with more deals believed to be in the pipeline, according to bankers.
While some takeovers such as Agrium Inc’s $1.2 billion bid for AWB are waiting to clear final regulatory hurdles, there were early signs that Australia would not take the issue personally.
Just hours after the Potash decision was announced, Australia cleared Canadian gold miner Anatolia Minerals Development’s $1.1 billion acquisition of Australia’s Avoca Resources.
Bankers and lawyers said on Thursday politics would increasingly get in the way of takeovers but mainly due to the sheer size of deals rather than the result of a shift in thinking.
“When you have deals in the $3 to $4 billion mark they don’t really annoy anyone. For deals above $10-$12 billion you start running into political issues more,” said one banker who has advised on a string of multi-billion dollar deals.
Lawyers said the decision did not necessarily indicate Canada and other governments were toughening their stance on mergers and acquisitions.
“It’s all done case by case. I don’t think it means that anyone’s taken a left turn in terms of blocking major acquisitions,” said Russell Miller, chairman of Australian law firm Minter Ellison.
“This was always going to be a hard one for BHP, but they still have a review to go.”
The Singapore Exchange’s $7.9 billion takeover bid for Australian bourse ASX Ltd is also running into political obstacles as it needs approval from Australia’s parliament to change ownership restrictions. Some politicians have already indicated they are opposed to the deal.
“In one way, this will give more fodder to Australian lawmakers to block the SGX transaction,” said a source familiar with the ASX/SGX deal.
“They will argue that if Canada can protect one of its private enterprise from being acquired by a foreign company, then why should Australia allow a state-backed entity to buy its stock exchange.”
Lawyers said consolidation meant companies were eyeing an increasingly larger slice of the action and markets became more concentrated.
“Once you get that situation, irrespective of whether it’s potash or some other mineral, you’re more likely to have a greater effect on competition from the deal, either from conglomerate effects or by removing a competitor from the market,” said Sharon Hendrick, a partner at Australian law firm Mallesons Stephens Jacques. (Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Denny Thomas in Hong Kong; Editing by Lincoln Feast)