JSW Steel weighs British Steel’s prospects ahead of likely bid


MUMBAI: Sajjan Jindal-promoted JSW Steel Ltd is weighing options for British Steel Ltd after the UK company’s liquidation advisor EY reached out to it, a person aware of the development said.

A team from JSW Steel, India’s second largest private steelmaker, has started looking at the company and its prospects, the person cited above said on condition of anonymity. The company is examining the liquidation advisor’s proposal but is yet to put in a formal bid.

British Steel, which produces products used in construction and rail networks, went into administration last month following the collapse of talks between Greybull Capital, the private equity owner of British Steel, and the UK government for a £30-million loan.

British Steel has 3 million tonnes of steel-making capacity in Scunthorpe, UK, and rolling mills specializing in rail, construction steel, special steel and wire rod across the UK, France and the Netherlands.

On 5 June, Reuters, quoting unnamed sources, reported that British Steel’s liquidation advisor EY has contacted European steelmakers, including Italy’s Marcegaglia Group, AFV Beltrame Group and Acciaierie Venete, and international players such as JSW Group and Posco Steel.

When contacted, a spokesperson for JSW Steel said, “The company does not comment on market rumour and speculation.”

For British Steel, JSW’s possible interest will be a second dalliance with an Indian firm.

The UK steel mill used to be owned by Tata Steel for nearly a decade as part of the Corus acquisition in 2007. After several write-downs, Tata Steel sold the loss-making Scunthorpe facility and related long steel entities in Europe to Greybull Capital in 2016 for a token amount of GBP 1.

An industry analyst said on condition of anonymity: “It’s unlikely that JSW will bid for all the assets of British Steel; maybe they’ll cherry-pick a few if they get a good valuation. British Steel produces advanced high-quality long products, but costs of operations in the UK are very high. Besides, once Brexit is triggered, there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty for businesses in the UK and for UK’s traditional trade partners.

“JSW is also highly leveraged now; they are investing a lot in capital expenditure and they’ve picked up some expensive assets in India and the US. I don’t think they’ll commit a lot to taking a bet in the UK,” he added.

JSW Steel has made a spate of acquisitions both in India and abroad in the last 12 months. In May 2018, it bought Italy’s second largest steel plant Aferpi for ₹600 crore and in June, it committed nearly ₹3,400 crore to acquire and upgrade US-based integrated steel plant Acero Junction. Back home, JSW Steel acquired Monnet Ispat through the insolvency courts for₹2,875 crore in a consortium with AION Investments. The company’s bid of ₹19,700 crore for Bhushan Power and Steel, another insolvent firm, is awaiting court approval.It has also made a ₹1,500-crore offer for Asian Colour Coated Ispat Ltd to the bankrupt firm’s committee of creditors.

British Steel is the UK’s second largest steel company and employs about 5,000 people directly. News reports indicate that the company’s liquidation could put another 20,000 jobs in the supply chain at risk. On 28 May, the BBC reported that the official receiver of British Steel had contacted more than 80 potential purchasers, 60 of whom were sent non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). The deadline for bids is 30 June, Financial Times has reported. Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance, through its subsidiary Liberty House, and Greybull Capital itself are among bidders interested in British Steel, according to a Reuters report.

For JSW Steel, which is focused on its India business and investing massively in capacity expansion here, a possible bid for British Steel would be a contrarian bet. Steel manufactured in the UK is uncompetitive because of high energy and environment costs and high wages. In fact, senior executives at Tata Steel, which is looking to sell its Port Talbot steel plant in the UK, have said in the past that the energy costs of operating in the UK made steel production prohibitive.