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Australia's Wesfarmers quits coal as pollution headwinds mount

Conglomerate to sell off last mining stake for $640m and focus on retail

Wesfarmer's coal mine in Bengalla. The Australian company decided to sell the mine as coal falls out of favor due to its high carbon emissions.

SYDNEY -- Australia's Wesfarmers is exiting the coal business after unloading its last mining asset, shifting management resources to segments like retail as pressure against the heavily polluting fuel grows.

The company said Tuesday that it agreed to sell its 40% stake in the Bengalla mine for about 860 million Australian dollars ($640 million) to joint venture partner New Hope, which holds an equivalent share. Mitsui & Co. and Taiwan Power each have 10% stakes. The mine in the Australian state of New South Wales produces coal for power generation.

Perth-based Wesfarmers entered the coal business in 1989 and has held a stake in Bengalla since 1991. Through acquisitions, it established a business centered on retail, with operations in coal and chemical products as well. The company booked sales of AU$68.4 billion and net profit of AU$2.8 billion for the year ended June 2017.

Around 2016, however, Wesfarmers began to review its portfolio of assets as regulation and criticism of coal, a major emitter of carbon dioxide, spread. It sold off another Australian mine in March of this year.

Last Wednesday, Anglo-Australian mining group Rio Tinto became the first major resource company to quit coal when it announced the sale of its remaining assets.

Wesfarmers is also overhauling its retail segment, selling home improvement company Homebase in May and spinning off supermarket Coles last month. The company will concentrate resources in fields where it expects growth, like discount stores Kmart and Target and hardware store Bunnings.

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