Peabody Energy pulls plug on Tinkler's coal comeback

Reuters

SYDNEY, Aug 28 (Reuters) - U.S. coal producer Peabody Energy has pulled the $130 million sale of its Australian Wilkie Creek mine to former billionaire Nathan Tinkler, appearing to dash the young entrepreneur's hopes of a coal comeback.

Tinkler, a former pit electrician who became Australia's youngest billionaire before losing it all when coal prices crashed, had hoped to turn around his fortunes with the Wilkie Creek purchase.

His Singapore-based Bentley Resources made a non-refundable payment for the mine when it agreed to the cash-and-debt deal in May but subsequently missed instalments, Peabody said.

Peabody said Bentley had been unable to meet its obligations to close the deal and said it was "evaluating its alternatives" for the closed coal mine in Queensland's Surat Basin.

The deal for $70 million cash plus assumption of $60 million in liabilities had come as a surprise to bankers and analysts, who knew that Peabody had wanted well over $500 million for the mine when it was put on the block more than two years ago.

After failing to attract a buyer, Peabody closed Wilkie Creek in December 2013, blaming weak coal prices, high costs and the impact of Australia's carbon tax, which has since been axed.

Tinkler, who made his first big bet on an unloved A$15 million coal project in 2006, rode Australia's mining boom, peaking in 2012 with the $5 billion merger of his Aston Resources and Boardwalk Resources with Whitehaven Coal Ltd .

But it all started to unravel in the second half of 2012 as coal prices started to slide. Just over a year ago, the 38-year-old was forced to give up his stake in Whitehaven Coal, the biggest source of his wealth, to pay off creditors.

Tinkler's beloved sports empire has also crumbled. He relinquished control of the Newcastle Knights rugby league team in May and put his Newcastle Jets A-League soccer club up for sale last week. His thoroughbred horse racing and stud empire, the largest in the country, is being sold by creditors.

Tinkler has maintained a low-profile since moving with family in 2012 to Singapore from Australia's coal hub of Newcastle.

He is due to make a rare public appearance in Australia on Friday when he gives evidence at an inquiry into political and business corruption that has ensnared top officials from Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Liberal Party.

In May, the police minister of Australia's most populous state resigned after the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption linked him to a plot to illegally funnel political donations from a property development group owned by Tinkler.

Property developers are banned from making political donations in the state, and the scheme is believed to have been devised to circumvent those rules in order to buy influence with the government.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell and Sonali Paul; Editing by Ryan Woo)

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