Top U.S. coal miner Peabody Energy raised its offer for Australia's Macarthur Coal to $3.27 billion, but the new offer is at a discount to Macarthur's last trading price.

The move came as Peabody tried to thwart Macarthur's plan to take over smaller rival Gloucester Coal in a deal that would give Hong Kong-based commodities firm Noble Group a 24.6 percent stake in Macarthur for much less.

Peabody and Noble both want to get their hands on Macarthur as it controls a third of the global supply of a cleaner coal that is in demand from steelmakers.

Peabody raised its offer by A$1 to A$14 a share less than a week after Macarthur rejected its first approach. Investors and analysts said the new bid was highly unlikely to succeed as it was below Macarthur's last price of A$14.87.

It's very difficult to see $14 have any traction. It seems to me a huge misread in terms of where they are pitching and what the market is prepared to pay for the stock, said Tim Schroeders, a portfolio manager at Pengana Capital, which does not own shares in Macarthur.

Key to the latest bid is the stance of Macarthur's top three shareholders -- China's CITIC Resources Holdings <1205.HK> and steel giants ArcelorMittal SA and South Korea's POSCO <005490.KS> -- who together own 47.3 percent of Macarthur.

All three declined to comment on Peabody's first offer last week. The offer includes an alternative that would allow the three shareholders to retain their stakes in a privatized Macarthur.

At A$14 a share, Peabody's offer was still well below the roughly A$20 a share that POSCO and ArcelorMittal paid to get into Macarthur two years ago.


Noble's plan to sell its 87.7 stake in Gloucester to Macarthur was thrown into jeopardy last week when Peabody said its bid for Macarthur was conditional on Macarthur dropping its bid for Gloucester.

Peabody on Tuesday urged Macarthur to delay an April 12 vote on the Gloucester takeover, saying its A$14 a share offer for Macarthur was worth 44 percent more than the value of Macarthur shares implied in the Gloucester takeover plan.

Peabody will now either need to make a binding offer or increase their offer high enough to obligate Macarthur to delay

the April 12 shareholder vote, said Tom Sartor, an analyst at RBS Morgans in Brisbane.

But I don't think the A$14 bid is a high enough offer to force Macarthur to reconsider its position.

Trading in both Macarthur and Gloucester shares was halted on Tuesday pending announcements on the takeover tussle.

Noble prepared itself for defeat by Peabody by making an offer on Tuesday to buy out Gloucester at A$12.60 a share, in a deal valuing Gloucester at A$1.02 billion -- if the Macarthur deal fell through.

It could be a move by Noble, who may believe that Peabody will eventually be successful in acquiring Macarthur, said Andreas Bokkenheuser, analyst at UBS in Singapore.

In that case, Noble could lose the potential marketing rights of Macarthur's coal, which up until now has been viewed as a long-term positive for the company.

Noble shares rose 0.3 percent to S$3.20 on Tuesday, in line with the broader Singapore market <.FTSTI>.

(Additional reporting by Victoria Thieberger in MELBOURNE and Saeed Azhar in SINGAPORE)

(Editing by Balazs Koranyi and Ian Geoghegan)

($1=1.086 Australian Dollar)