* Tinkler says coal markets depressed for few more years
* Sees major restructuring in iron ore sector
* Says Glencore could keep pursuing Rio Tinto (Adds comments on Glencore pursuit of Rio Tinto, changes date)
By Melanie Burton
SINGAPORE, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Nathan Tinkler, the former mining magnate who lost his fortune because of a slump in coal prices, expects global mining companies such as BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto to put their coal assets up for sale.
The former electrician who became Australia’s youngest billionaire by betting on unloved coal assets in pre-boom 2006 only to see his empire crumble in the 2012 downturn, predicted that coal markets would remain depressed for a few more years.
“I am a big believer that a lot of the majors will start to divest assets (in coal),” Tinkler said during a speech in a rare public appearance at the Singapore Mining Club Christmas dinner.
Tinkler, who worked as an apprentice at BHP Billiton early in his career, also said that the iron ore sector faces major restructuring.
“It’s very possible over the next two to three years that we’ll see a lot of rationalisation in the iron ore industry ... it’s going to be a tough slog for the iron ore sector.”
Prices of coal and iron ore have tumbled to multi-year lows this year, with oversupply smothering more moderate demand growth. The fall in prices of these raw materials has placed large miners such as Rio, BHP and Anglo American under pressure and pushed some smaller companies out of business.
Tinkler said the mining experience on the board of Glencore would help in any new attempt to takeover Rio Tinto. He said he was familiar Glencore chief Ivan Glasenberg as well as with Rio Tinto executives.
Rio Tinto rebuffed an approach from Glencore in August that would have created a $160 billion mining goliath, and while the Swiss firm said last month it was no longer actively considering a bid, it did not rule out another attempt next year.
Tinkler said Glencore needed to buy assets to shore up its comparatively thin reserve base, with Rio Tinto’s iron ore and coal assets offering an attractive match.
“Do I think the merger will happen? I don’t think it should. (But) Ivan Glasenberg is a hungry, driven beast. When he sets his eyes on a target there is no timeline.”
On Australia’s struggling resources sector, Tinkler said that time lags for infrastructure approvals had boosted entry level costs, while the country’s thermal coal industry should consider moving back to a five-day working week to cut costs.
Writing by Silvia Antonioli; Additional reporting by Nina Chestney and Sonali Paul; Editing by David Goodman and Joseph Radford