Mining giant Anglo American has postponed the sale of Wolverhampton-based Tarmac, blaming poor credit market conditions.
Anglo had put its building materials arm up for sale in August to focus on its core mining operations. Tarmac was expected to have attracted bids of around £3 billion.
The sale will now go ahead when things improve, Anglo said yesterday. Tarmac is the latest high profile West Midlands victim to fall victim to the credit crunch.
The volatile markets have already forced Cadbury Schweppes to ditch the sale of its US drinks arm - although this could be resurrected later this year - while pub chain Mitchells & Butlers disastrously delayed a £4.5 billion property deal causing it to write off £274 million and ultimately making it a takeover target.
Despite the underlying situation Anglo, which yesterday released its full-year results, said that Tarmac had enjoyed a very strong 2007 with operating profits climbing by 38 per cent to £243 million.
In the UK, operating profits grew by 41 per cent, with sales growing ahead of the market. At Tarmac International, operating profits were 32 per cent higher, benefiting from milder weather and buoyant markets in France, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Looking ahead, Anglo has implemented a three year business plan for Tarmac that will deliver performance gains through to 2010. This is expected to be driven by efficiency improvements and targeted capital expenditure.
"In the UK, a predicted downturn in the housing markets and low investment levels in road building are expected to have a modest effect in the short term," Anglo said yesterday.
However, this could be offset as Tarmac is expected to benefit from future large scale construction projects including the 2012 Olympics, the widening of the M25 and the potential Crossrail east-west rail link across London.
In a statement yesterday, Anglo said: "Tarmac, which enjoys a leading position in the UK construction materials industry and is well positioned in certain key markets in continental Europe and the Middle East, had a very strong operational performance in 2007, with a number of its business improvement initiatives starting to make a significant impact.
"It is expected that the performance of Tarmac will continue to underpin a competitive sale process, however it has been decided not to launch the marketing phase of the sale process until current credit market conditions improve."
It added that the company continued to be managed to maximise shareholder value and this would include active reviews of its portfolio.
For example, Tarmac recently increased its ownership of United Marine Holdings, a UK marine dredged aggregates business, to 100 per cent.
Anglo bought Tarmac in 1999 for £1.2 billion. The firm was established in 1903 and has operations throughout the UK, particularly in the Midlands.
Anglo as a whole saw its operating profit from core operations in 2007 rise by 12 per cent to £4.6 billion.
It also outlined a £20 billion pipeline of expansion projects in platinum, coal, base metals, iron ore and diamonds. Of the £20 billion, about £6 billion of the projects are under development and £14 billion are under consideration.
"These projects will build on the group's portfolio of existing assets and deliver considerable organic growth potential," the company said.
Jon Bergtheil, an analyst at JP Morgan, said Anglo was desperately seeking growth.
"The company highlighted the project pipeline but it should be noted that this growth is only likely to materialise from 2010 onwards," he said.