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Tatas are out to conquer the world

October 06, 2006 13:06 IST

Think of India, steel and consolidation and only one name springs to mind--that of metal maharajah Lakshmi Mittal.

Yet the Rajasthan-born, Kolkata-educated industrialist is missing from this plot. Tata Steel, part of the sprawling Tata conglomerate whose interests include cars, telecommunications, software consulting, hotels and consumer goods, said Thursday it was considering a bid for Anglo-Dutch rival Corus, illustrating the pressure the steel industry feels to consolidate.

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Tata stressed that a bid for Corus, which was formed in 1999 through the merger of British Steel and Hoogovens, was only one of the options it was considering and there was no certainty an approach would be forthcoming. Even so, investors loved it. The announcement sent shares at Corus up 12.52 per cent, to 458.5 pence (.61), in London.

When Tata's chairman, 68-year-old Ratan Tata, a Cornell-educated architect, succeeded his uncle J.R.D. Tata at the helm of the conglomerate 15 years ago, he set out to unite, refocus and modernise the company's 100 or so largely independent businesses. Aided by cash from its Tata Consultancy Services--the conglomerate's software unit--and the growth of India's economy, he has rebuilt the company's shareholdings in Tata Steel and increased its revenue sixfold.

Tata said a year ago that he was now looking at opportunities to invest in steel companies in developed countries, "but we are making sure that we have secure access to raw materials because I really believe that owners of iron ore are going to rule the industry. They will be the OPEC of the steel industry."

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Back in June this year, it seemed as though Mittal and two billionaire Russians would swallow up the steel industry. One was Kremlin-endorsed Muscovite Alexei Mordashov and the other was his baby-faced compatriot, Roman Abramovich, a London-dwelling soccer fan with a big, byzantine asset portfolio. First Luxembourg-based steelmaker Arcelor announced a deal to buy Mordashov's Severstal as it tried to fend off a hostile takeover bid from rival Mittal Steel. Then Abramovich was said to be in talks to buy Corus.

Neither came to fruition. On June 25, Mittal Steel decided to merge with Arcelor, with the new company to be called Arcelor Mittal. The merger has been successfully approved by shareholders and directors of Arcelor, making the company the largest steelmaker in the world. Abramovich never made a move for Corus.

Corus, which is much larger than its potential suitor and employs more than 40,000 people, declined comment Thursday.

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Chris Noon, Forbes
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