Billionaires: Melinda French Gates reduces Canada Rail stake with $467m sale

In our fortnightly roundup, Vincent Bollore receives $6.4bn offer from MSC for his African logistics assets and Patrice Motsepe agrees to buy mothballed platinum mine for $221m

Melinda French Gates sold 3.65 million shares in Canadian National Railway from December 7 to 16. She received the stocks in her divorce from Bill Gates. Photo: AP
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Melinda French Gates

Melinda French Gates sold $467 million of Canadian National Railway shares this month, trimming a holding she received in her divorce from Bill Gates and freeing up cash she can potentially use for her own investing and philanthropy.

She sold a total of 3.65 million shares in the Montreal-based company from December 7 to 16, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Ms French Gates, who is worth $11.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, still holds almost 20 million shares, but is now below the 5 per cent stake that requires her to report transactions.

In addition to the railroad stock, Mr Gates’s Cascade Investment also transferred stakes in Deere & Co and AutoNation to his former wife. Mr Gates, who is worth $135.3bn, owns 68.7 million shares of Canadian National.

Pivotal is Ms French Gates’s philanthropic investment and incubation company that focuses mainly on gender equality. The billionaire founded it in 2015 “as a separate, independent organisation” from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which she shares with her ex-husband.

Vincent Bollore

French billionaire Vincent Bollore has received a €5.7bn ($6.4bn) offer from Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) for his African logistics assets, a deal that would transform his family group just two months before his self-declared retirement.

His company, French conglomerate Bollore, announced the bid.

The offer by privately owned MSC, the world’s second-largest container shipping company, comes after major acquisitions by its rivals CMA CGM and Maersk in port infrastructure and non-maritime logistics services.

The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted shortages of container ships and created logjams at ports at a time of very high consumer spending, which has sent freight rates soaring to record levels. This has filled the coffers of the biggest shipping lines and prompted them to seek further integration by snapping up land-based services.

Against this backdrop, Bollore group could not keep up with the investments called for by increased competition in Europe as well as by the entrance of cash-rich newcomers from China and the Middle East, a source close to the matter said.

Bollore Africa Logistics’ revenue fell by 10 per cent last year owing to a fall in activity and the end of its concession in Douala, Cameroon.

The French government is likely to scrutinise the transaction as the infrastructures controlled by Bollore’s entity are deemed strategic in West Africa.

“It’s on good track,” the source said, adding that Bollore gave a heads-up to the government before announcing the potential deal.

The sale of Bollore’s African assets would deprive the listed family owned group, valued at €12.9bn on the market, of a large chunk of its historical activities and would make its holdings in media group Vivendi the company’s centre of gravity.

The announcement comes just two months before Mr Bollore, 69, is set to hand over the reins of this group to his four children.

The businessman, who spent most of his adult life building up this key activity through acquisitions and personal connections with statesmen in West Africa, has repeatedly said he would retire on February 17, 2022, which marks the 200th anniversary of the group, founded in Brittany.

Bollore Africa Logistics employs about 20,800 people and has 16 container terminal concessions, including in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Gabon. It also operates three rail concessions in the region.

Patrice Motsepe

African Rainbow Minerals, backed by South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe, agreed to buy Anglo American Platinum’s mothballed Bokoni platinum mine for 3.5bn rand ($221m).

The deal comes after the world’s biggest platinum miners declared record dividends this year as rebounding demand for their metals from automakers bolstered earnings.

African Rainbow, which has investments spanning manganese to gold, is looking to leverage an asset that was mothballed before the surge in platinum-group metals over the past few years.

“The acquisition and development of BPM will enable us to scale our platinum group metals portfolio,” Mr Motsepe said in a statement.

African Rainbow plans to spend about 5.3bn rand over three years, with mining operations at Bokoni restarting in 2023. The project will create about 5,000 jobs, half of them permanent, the company said.

The Bokoni mine, jointly owned by Amplats and Atlatsa Resources, was placed on care and maintenance in 2017 as the Anglo American unit wound down less profitable mines and shifted toward mechanised operations.

Petr Kellner

Petr Kellner’s heirs cleared the last hurdle for merging their Czech bank with a bigger local lender, completing one of the billionaire’s long-coveted deals nine months after he died in a helicopter crash.

Shareholders in Prague-traded Moneta Money Bank approved a complex proposal to buy Air Bank Group from the Kellner family’s PPF Group for 25.9bn koruna ($1.2bn). It was the investment firm’s third and final attempt to merge the two banks, after it was forced to offer better terms following a failed approach in June.

Both PPF and Moneta’s management have promoted the transaction as a way to create a bigger and more profitable local bank that could better compete in a market dominated by the units of KBC Groep, Erste Group Bank and Societe Generale.

Subject to regulatory approvals, the deal will create the fifth-biggest Czech bank with about 510bn koruna in assets. The new entity would have almost 2.5 million customers, the third-biggest client base in the nation of 10.7 million, and would become the country’s biggest provider of consumer loans.

“I believe that in the medium term, the results, numbers and successes will prove that this was the right path for further development of Moneta,” Tomas Spurny, the lender’s chief executive, said after the shareholder meeting.

To increase chances of sealing the deal, PPF built a nearly 30 per cent stake in Moneta earlier this year. The transaction will be mostly financed through issue of new Moneta shares and the outcome of the capital increase will determine whether PPF gains control over the combined entity.

Unlike most PPF deals, this case has unfolded in public and included clashes with activist shareholder Petrus Advisers, which says it owns about 10 per cent of Moneta. The London-based fund was a vocal critic of the plan, saying the terms were unfair and that the Czech bank would be better off as a standalone company.

To ease concerns of other shareholders, PPF agreed to let all owners buy the new shares next year, while keeping Air Bank’s earlier price tag.

Some analysts expect PPF will eventually gain control and make a buyout offer, although this depends on the number of other shareholders participating in the capital increase and other factors.

Moneta shares have outperformed since the improved proposal because it sets a de-facto floor of 90 koruna per share for a potential mandatory buyout offer if PPF does gain control. Still, the current market price of 93 koruna trails the 102.55 koruna average 12-month price target, for standalone Moneta, among analysts covering the stock.

Updated: December 26, 2021, 4:00 AM