Anglo American plc (LSE:AAL) is expected to appoint an investment bank any day for a sale of its $5 billion (AUD 7.5 billion) portfolio of Australian coalmining assets, according to sources in the market. The sale, which comes after an announced company break-up while it has been fending off advances from BHP, will involve big dollars for what are some of the best metallurgical coal mines in the world. That may limit the field somewhat.

One of the parties most strongly positioned for the portfolio is BHP itself, but perhaps it does not want to be seen to be reinforcing Anglo American's break-up strategy that enhances Anglo's value. But sources say BHP will not be in contention for the mines. If the break-up of Anglo American does not go well, it's always been considered a possibility that BHP comes back a second time with an "all of company" bid for Anglo American after several months.

The bet by some is that the coal auction attracts non-conforming offers. China-backed Yancoal Australia Ltd. (ASX:YAL) will probably bid for Anglo American's Capcoal and Dawson assets, while Whitehaven Coal Limited (ASX:WHC), Coronado Global Resources Inc. (ASX:CRN) and Stanmore Resources Limited could bid for the other more attractive mines, Moranbah North and Grosvenor. Other assets that form part of the Queensland portfolio are the Aquila project, an interest in Jellinbah and the potential Moranbah South project, producing about 16 million tonnes a year.

Glencore would also be large enough to buy the mines, but the Swiss trader is yet to complete its acquisition of Teck Resources, so could be distracted with that. Other than that, it's hard to see what other groups would be well placed to buy the entire portfolio, with Whitehaven Coal busy digesting the coal mines it has only just bought from BHP. There's been a view that perhaps the reason why BHP sold its Daunia and Blackwater coal mines in the first place was to make way for the Anglo American assets it would inherit as part of its planned buyout, clearing any challenges it may face owning both from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission.

In terms of selecting an investment bank, Anglo American has used Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley as its defence advisers so both could be well-placed.