Rio baskets $9bn of ‘unwanted assets’. Mimics BHP’s South32 play.

It’s only natural for change when a new leader steps in, and it seems Rio Tinto’s incoming CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques is doing just that. He’s revamped the world’s second-largest mine operator, putting about $9 billion of unwanted assets into a single basket, with some analysts expecting a BHP-style spinoff. South32 was spun off last year with assets the world’s largest miner ‘no longer needed’. The mining companies are still under pressure, despite a slight recovery in commodity prices, and there’s a need to box smart. The assets aren’t at Rio’s core, and it makes sense to shed any extra weight. Finding a buyer may be a tougher ask. – Stuart Lowman

by Jesse Riseborough and Agnieszka de Sousa

(Bloomberg) — Rio Tinto Group looks like it’s putting about $9 billion of unwanted assets from coal and uranium to Canadian iron ore into a single basket ready to spin off, according to Sanford C. Bernstein.

Incoming Chief Executive Officer Jean-Sebastien Jacques on Tuesday revamped the four key divisions of the world’s second-biggest mine operator. The new Energy and Minerals segment features coal and uranium mines, salt, borates and titanium-dioxide businesses, and Rio’s Iron Ore Co. of Canada unit.

Bucket-wheel reclaimers move iron ore at a loading terminal in the town of Port Hedland, located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in this December 3, 2013 file photo. Rio Tinto is expected to release its tally of iron ore production for Q3 this week. REUTERS/David Gray/Files GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD PACKAGE - SEARCH "BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD APRIL 20" FOR ALL IMAGES

Jacques’ shakeup of Rio follows the move by larger rival BHP Billiton Ltd. last year to create South32 Ltd. by hiving off manganese, coal, alumina and nickel assets it no longer needed and offering them to investors.

“This seems like a portfolio of unwanted assets that could be ready for a spinoff,” Paul Gait, a London-based analyst at Bernstein, said in a note. “This division looks a lot like the South32 assets previously in BHP’s portfolio.” A spokesman for Rio declined to comment.

South32 shares, traded in Sydney, London and Johannesburg, were distributed to BHP investors. Since starting trade in May 2015, the stock is down 18 percent in Sydney, beating BHP’s 37 percent slide and a 22 percent drop in Rio.

Rio’s shares rose 1.4 percent to A$44.82 at 10:47 a.m. in Sydney on Wednesday. South32 jumped 2.3 percent and BHP advanced 0.9 percent.

Tyler Broda, an RBC Capital Markets analyst, agreed Rio will hold higher quality assets in some of its other divisions but was cautious on a possible spinoff.

“There will definitely be assets in the Energy and Minerals division that are not as core,” he said. Yet, with Rio’s reliance on iron ore for earnings, there may be “benefits from maintaining some of these other potentially counter-cyclical commodities like uranium.”

The Energy and Minerals assets are seen posting $1.2 billion of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization next year, Bernstein says. At eight times earnings, the unit would be valued at $9.3 billion, Gait estimates.

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