Liontown extends due diligence for $4.2 billion Albemarle buyout

MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australia’s Liontown Resources on Thursday said it would extend an exclusive due diligence period by a week for its proposed A$6.6 billion ($4.23 billion) buyout by U.S.-based Albemarle, even as an Australian billionaire muscles in.

Liontown had earlier granted the world’s biggest lithium chemical maker a four-week period to examine its books and enable Albemarle to put forward a binding offer. Albemarle’s due diligence is substantially complete and it requires a short extension, Liontown said.

The extension comes as Hancock Prospecting, a firm controlled by Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart, on Wednesday increased its stake in Liontown to 19.9%, which could hamper the U.S. mining giant’s takeover attempt.

Albemarle needs 75% support from Liontown investors in a shareholder vote to succeed with its bid. A stake of between 15% and 20% can often become a blocking stake depending on investor turnout on the day of the ballot.

Liontown had backed the A$3 per share buyout offer from Albemarle.

Hancock Prospecting, which operates iron ore mines in Western Australia, has questioned Liontown’s prospects of developing its flagship Kathleen Valley lithium project on time and within budget, and has said it would be happy to assist.

($1 = 1.5591 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Rishav Chatterjee in Bengaluru and Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Maju Samuel and Jamie Freed)