The top shareholder in Australian miner Macarthur Coal, Ken Talbot, has quit the board, the firm said on Monday, in a move that frees him up to be the lynchpin in a looming bidding war for the company.
Companies looking to build stakes in Macarthur include the world's top steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, and the world's no.4 steelmaker, South Korea's POSCO, as they look to protect themselves against soaring coal prices.
Talbot holds 19.76 percent of the company.
The second-largest shareholder is Chinese state-owned CITIC Resources Holdings, with 17.66 percent, which said this month it had not decided what to do with its stake.
ArcelorMittal bought 14.9 percent of Macarthur for $604 million in May and has been holding talks on an unspecified new transaction with the Australian firm.
Under local takeover rules, a shareholder that wants more than 19.9 percent of the company must make a full takeover offer.
"Mr Talbot...has advised that he is stepping down from the board because he believes that it is in the company's interest for him to do so," Macarthur said. "It will also allow him greater flexibility to fully deal with his remaining stake."
POSCO said last week it had expressed an interest in buying a stake in Macarthur.
Macarthur supplies steel mills with more than a third of the world's pulverised coal, making it a hot target for steel makers.
Macarthur spokesman Ian McAleese said the company might have something to say about its talks with ArcelorMittal in the next few days, but he declined to comment on whether the company was talking to any other companies.
He also could not comment further on Talbot's decision to quit the board. Talbot was out of the country and not immediately contactable. A person who answered the phone at the Talbot Group declined to say where Talbot was travelling.