Every time serial shorter Jim Chanos opens his mouth to talk down Fortescue Metals Group, the company's biggest believer spends up big.
Only days after Mr Chanos was back in the Australian press to talk up his long-standing bet against Fortescue, Andrew Forrest entered the market for the first time in more than a year, dropping $23.6 million to acquire 5.2 million shares in the miner.
It is the first time Mr Forrest has bought shares since August last year, when Fortescue was under intense pressure amid a tumbling iron ore price. The Fortescue founder spent $38.6 million to show support for the company, buying 10 million shares at an average price of $3.86.
Fortescue was riding high in April last year with its shares peaking briefly above $6, when Mr Chanos launched his public attack, saying he had been short-selling the stock and describing Fortescue as a "value trap".
When Fortescue shares fell sharply in May and June, Mr Forrest spent $135 million at an average price of $4.85 to buy 27.8 million shares.
At the time Mr Chanos laughed loudest, as debt-laden Fortescue crumbled in the face of the iron ore price crash, its shares dipping below $3 in September. Mr Chanos, a long-established doubter in the China story who has also taken short positions in mining-dependent companies such as Caterpillar, told Fairfax media on the weekend he still held short positions in Fortescue.
Mr Forrest could not be contacted for comment yesterday.
The renewal of the billionaire battle came as Fortescue, now riding higher on a stronger iron ore price and a plan to pay down early its estimated $12 billion debt, again indicated it was looking for future expansion prospects. While it already has billions of tonnes of iron ore sitting in undeveloped deposits, Fortescue announced yesterday it had signed a land access agreement with the Western Desert Lands Aboriginal Corporation to explore tenements south-east of its Chichester operations.Fortescue shares closed up 3Â¢ yesterday, at $4.59.