* Rail, port assets have attracted wide mix of interested parties
* Fortescue open to allowing third parties to use its facilities
By Sonali Paul
HONG KONG, March 20 (Reuters) - Australian iron ore miner Fortescue Metals Group expects to sell a 30 percent to 40 percent stake in its port and rail unit by the end of June, having attracted strong interest in the assets, Chief Executive Nev Power said on Wednesday.
Fortescue, the no. 4 iron ore producer in the world, wants to pay down debt by selling a minority stake in the unit, called The Pilbara Infrastructure, which analysts have estimated could fetch as much as $5 billion depending on the structure of the deal.
“We will only do that on the basis that we get the right value and terms for those assets, but all indications are that that’s looking very good and that we should move to a completion of that transaction hopefully around the end of June,” Power told reporters on the sidelines of a mining conference in Hong Kong.
Power said the assets had attracted pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, infrastructure investors, strategic investors and industry players, but declined to say when or how many final bids it would seek.
“There’s a very wide mix of people in there and we see some very good potential partners in the shortlist that we have,” he said.
Bidders are only interested if the sale leads to the opening of Fortescue’s rail lines and port to other iron ore miners as that will boost returns on their investment, people familiar with the sale process have said.
Power said the company was open to allowing third parties to use its lines but it wants to retain control over the port and rail operations as long as Fortescue’s ore accounts for the majority of tonnage on the network.
Companies eyeing access to Fortescue’s rail line include Atlas Iron, Brockman Mining, BC Iron and Flinders Mines.
Power said the main obstacle to other miners using Fortescue’s rail line is a lack of funding for their fledgling projects.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions and continue to have open negotiations with those parties. But it’s really a key about them being able to fund those projects to move beyond this stage,” he said, without naming which companies Fortescue was talking to. (Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)