Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard had teamed up with an Australian investment heavyweight and a global commodities trader in making a run for domestic fuel retailer Caltex Australia.

Street Talk can reveal Couche-Tard was working in a consortium with industry funds powerhouse IFM Investors and commodities trader Trafigura in making its $10 billion-odd play for Caltex.

The proposal was to split Caltex three ways; Couche-Tard would take the biggest piece – Caltex’s consumer-facing retail fuels business and convenience stores – while infrastructure specialist IFM Investors would own the infrastructure portion including pipelines and Trafigura would take Caltex’s Lytton refinery.

For Couche-Tard, such an arrangement would have been in keeping with its operations offshore, where it has a network of more than 16,000 convenience stores but no refinery or fuel distribution network.

However, sources said the consortium fell over late last year – and Couche-Tard has been pressing ahead on its own since, in line with comments by its chief executive Brian Hannasch who declared his company was a committed buyer of Caltex as a whole. It is understood the three parties couldn’t agree on price. Couche-Tard’s most recent proposal, which scored it limited due diligence, was at $34.50 a share.

While the consortium has fallen over, the fact Couche-Tard was in reasonably advanced talks with IFM and Trafigura is the strongest indication yet of what it would really like to do with the Australian company. You would have to think Couche-Tard hasn’t given up the search for bid partners – or would at least look to sell bits should it swallow Caltex in one gulp.

The whole situation is a little reminiscent of another $10 billion-odd listed Australian M&A play. It was only four years ago that rail and ports operator Asciano was split up following a bidding war that was kicked off by Canada’s Brookfield.

Asciano ended up being split into rail and port companies.

The rail syndicate alone counts the likes of CPP Investment Board, China Investment Corporation, British Columbia Investment Management Corporation and Global Infrastructure Partners as investors. The ports group included Brookfield and Qube.

Interestingly, IFM and Trafigura’s mutual concern for Caltex came only one year after the two teamed up at fuels terminal company Impala Terminals. IFM Global Infrastructure Fund took a 50 per cent stake in Trafigura’s Impala, which has terminal infrastructure  in Mexico, Spain and Peru.

Extracted from AFR