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Laiwu Steel Extends Buyout Accord
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Laiwu Steel Group, China's eighth-largest steel mill, has for the second time extended an accord to sell 38.4 percent of its Shanghai-listed arm, Laiwu Steel Corp, to the world's top steel producer, Arcelor Mittal. The deal has not yet received government approval.

In a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Laiwu Steel Corp yesterday said its parent firm and Arcelor Mittal have extended the agreement to December 31.

The move came after the two parties in January extended the deal to June 30. In February last year, Arcelor SA agreed to purchase 354.2 million shares of the Shanghai-listed company for 2.1 billion yuan.

Zhou Xizeng, a steel industry analyst with CITIC Securities Co Ltd, said yesterday one of main reasons for the delays is that the government still opposes the sale price.

"Laiwu Steel Corp was really undervalued considering its performance in China's booming steel sector. The price offered by Arcelor Mittal is fairly low," Zhou said.

An official from the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top industry watchdog, yesterday declined to comment on the price because it's a "very sensitive issue".

"Our steel industry has been very big and needs restructuring badly. We hope foreign companies will bring core technologies, instead of just buying domestic steel makers," the official said.

Arcelor Mittal, which was created last year through a merger between Arcelor and Mittal, aims to cash in on China's booming steel sector, the largest in the world, by acquiring local steel mills.

The group, which controls roughly 10 percent of the world's steel production, already owns a 30 percent stake of another Chinese steel mill, Hunan Valin Steel Tube & Wire Co.

According to China's steel sector regulations, foreign investors are banned from having a controlling stake in domestic steel makers.

Luo Bingsheng, vice-chairman of China Iron & Steel Association, said in April that big domestic steel companies, instead of foreign giants, should play a key role in mergers and acquisitions, since the industry is one of the "backbones" of the nation's economy.

Laiwu Steel Corp reported 221 million yuan in first-quarter net profit, rocketing by 550 percent from a year ago.

It closed at 19.29 yuan per share yesterday, up 2.83 percent.

The steel association predicted in April that crude steel production in China would reach 462-475 million tons this year, up from 419 million tons.

(China Daily June 13, 2007)

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