Just How Big and Important Is Sanjeev Gupta’s Metals Empire?
(Bloomberg) -- Sanjeev Gupta is fighting to save his sprawling empire after Greensill Capital, its biggest lender, collapsed into administration.
While the markets for GFG Alliance’s steel mills and aluminum smelters are buoyant, a court filing revealed on Monday that Gupta’s group had told Greensill in February that it would be insolvent without its funding.
That casts a shadow over operations that employ about 35,000 people across 30 different nations. Some of those assets may be snapped up, but for others Gupta -- dubbed the “savior of steel” -- was the only bidder last time they were offered for sale.
These are the most important assets and their significance for both local economies and international markets.
Gupta bought his first steel mill in the U.K. eight years ago, and is now the country’s third-biggest producer with a dozen sites. Many of his Liberty Steel plants provide products tailored to local manufacturers, potentially leaving them exposed if they shutdown, especially given Brexit trade upheaval.
“Some of the assets are strategic as it’s the only supplier of that kind of steel in the U.K.,” said James Campbell, a steel analyst at consultancy CRU Group. “There are definitely going to be buyers for some Liberty assets.”
Gupta also bought an aluminum and hydro-power plant in Scotland from Rio Tinto. That deal came with a guarantee from the Scottish government, the terms of which remain confidential.
Gupta’s most strategically important asset is probably the Dunkerque aluminum smelter in France, which he acquired for $500 million in 2018.
One of Europe’s biggest smelters, it’s a critical supplier to the region’s automakers. That’s something French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire may have had in mind when he pledged to support GFG employees and its industrial sites if they were threatened by Greensill’s collapse.
Trafigura Group is one of the Dunkerque plant’s most important commercial partners. The trading house is prepaid for supplying the smelter with alumina, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trafigura is also a secured lender, alongside a number of banks, via the $350 million loan GFG used to fund the acquisition from Rio Tinto.
That relationship could put Trafigura in pole position to buy the plant, echoing its acquisition of troubled zinc smelter Nyrstar in 2019. A spokeswoman for Trafigura declined to comment.
In his biggest deal, Gupta acquired seven steel sites for 740 million euros ($880 million) from ArcelorMittal in 2019. The largest were in Eastern Europe, including the Ostrava and Galati integrated mills in the Czech Republic and Romania.
The buying spree, which also involved assets in North Macedonia, Belgium and Luxembourg, was financed by loans from Greensill. Finding buyers for these assets may prove difficult, given the potential level of debt attached and as some struggled to consistently deliver profits when run by ArcelorMittal. That suggests government bailouts may be needed.
Gupta was not “in a bidding war for any of the assets he bought and I can’t think who today would step in to buy anything in either aluminum or steel,” said Christian Georges, senior analyst at Societe Generale SA in London. “So it’s going to be a real headache for all governments.”
Gupta’s Australian assets are among the most stable in his empire and, along with the Dunkerque smelter, the easiest to attract buyers in the short term.
The iron ore operations he owns in the Middleback Range supply the steel businesses he acquired in 2017.
The Whyalla steelworks, about 400 kilometers (249 miles) north of Adelaide, is a crucial supplier of rail steel in the country. Gupta also owns InfraBuild, which remelts scrap metal and is a key supplier to the construction industry.
As recently as January, there were fresh reports that Gupta had revived plans to list InfraBuild. In 2019, InfraBuild was forced to pay 12% on a five-year bond, even after Gupta pledged to kick in $150 million of equity to appease prospective lenders.
GFG took its first steps into America with the acquisition of the Georgetown Mill in South Carolina, before adding a rod and wire mill in Illinois. Gupta touted the possibility of taking the U.S. business public in 2019, though the plans never came to fruition.
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