Is Wesfarmers Ltd about to sell its coal mines?

Wesfarmers Ltd (ASX: WES) may be about to take advantage of soaring coal prices to sell its two coal mines, Curragh and Bengalla, according to media reports.

The Australian Financial Review (AFR) reports that the conglomerate has sent preliminary information on the mines to prospective buyers ahead of calling for bids. The AFR also says investment bank UBS is assisting Wesfarmers on the potential sales, which could bring in as much as $2 billion.

Wesfarmers is an industrial conglomerate owning Coles, Bunnings, Officeworks, First Choice Liquor, Coles Express, Kmart and Target as well as a Chemicals, Energy and Fertilisers business and Industrial and Safety division alongside the two coal mines.

The company did announce in August that it was reviewing strategic options “to maximise shareholder value” of the resources division. The business produced an earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) loss of $310 million in the 2016 financial year as revenues plunged 27%.

The Curragh coal mine in Queensland’s Bowen Basin produced around 8.5 million tonnes of metallurgical (coking) coal and 3 million tonnes of thermal coal. Wesfarmers owns 40% of the Bengalla thermal coal mine in the NSW Hunter Valley region. New Hope Corporation Ltd (ASX: NHC) owns 40% with the remainder owned by Mitsui (10%) and Taipower (10%).

Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) sold its 40% stake in the Bengalla mine to New Hope in September 2015 for $867 million, giving an indication of what Wesfarmers’ stake might be worth.

Metallurgical coal prices have more than quadrupled this year to soar above US$300 a tonne from US$73.40 a year ago. That could see the Curragh coal mine worth at least twice Wesfarmers’ stake in Bengalla.

If the sale does go ahead, Wesfarmers could reward shareholders with a special dividend or capital return – as it did in 2013 and 2014.

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Motley Fool writer/analyst Mike King owns shares in Wesfarmers Ltd. You can follow Mike on Twitter @TMFKinga

The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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