The West

Fortescue Metals Group chief executive Nev Power was back in an upbeat mood yesterday, talking up the prospects of the company's expansion and potential deals with Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill project as FMG brought an end to another of its major debt issues.

Speaking at the opening of Fortescue's second train unloader at Port Hedland yesterday, Mr Power was happy to fuel talk of a potential rail deal with Mrs Rinehart, saying he would welcome an approach over shared infrastructure from the Roy Hill project.

"We would welcome discussions with Roy Hill, or for that matter any of the other potential projects in the Pilbara," he said.

"We recognise that there are a lot of other iron ore projects in that area that we could provide a rail service for, so absolutely.

"By taking our production up to 155mtpa we've done a lot of duplication of our main line tracks so we've got the capacity to do that. We can continue to expand that capacity and keep upgrading that rail line to accommodate others."

A spokesman for Roy Hill played down the prospects of talks in the near term, saying the company was focused on winning debt funding for its own project, which includes a dedicated rail line of its own.

Mr Power denied speculation Fortescue's interest in the proposed port at Anketell was dead, saying the company remained "very interested" in the strategic project.

His comments came as Fortescue announced it would use $US715 million of this week's $US4.5 billion refinancing package to buy out a lucrative loan note issued by one of Fortescue's early backers in 2006.

The debt deal dates to when Fortescue was putting together its first infrastructure funding package and became the subject of a legal battle.

Under the terms of the $US100 million loan from US investment house Leucadia National, Fortescue was required to pay a 4 per cent royalty on sales from its Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak operations until 2019.

Analysts estimate Fortescue had so far paid out about $US580 million royalties on the note to date, and it carried a book value of $US897 million in Fortescue's last financial statements.

Though the buyout would use most of the $US900 million excess capacity in the refinancing facility, Patersons Securities head of research Alex Passmore said yesterday the buyout was a very good deal for Fortescue.

Mr Passmore calculated the net present value of the Leucadia note at as much as $US2.5 billion if the iron ore price rebounded to $US130 per tonne, as most forecasters project. "A year ago, at the height of ore prices, it would have cost them billions," he said.

Fortescue shares closed down 9¢ to $3.60 yesterday.

The West Australian

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