Mettle of big miners’ austerity to be tested – by Matt Chambers (The Australian – July 15, 2013)

THE nation’s biggest resource companies release quarterly reports this week in the first chance for investors to gauge progress in the big miners’ self-proclaimed new era of spending restraint and productivity.

BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Woodside Petroleum and Santos will report production, and energy firms revenue, from what has been a weaker quarter than it could have been from the nation’s resource-rich Pilbara in Western Australia. Rio and BHP experienced a very wet dry-season month of June in the Pilbara.

This is understood to have affected production from Rio, which reports tomorrow, and is likely to drag down its regional production, including minority partners’ interests, by a couple of million tonnes from the 61 million analysts had forecast.

Data from Rio’s Dampier and Cape Lambert ports in the Pilbara compiled by Credit Suisse backs this up, showing June exports this year were at their lowest in four years for the traditionally strong month. BHP, which reports on Wednesday, is said to have been hit to some extent.

While any impacts will be unwelcome, they are unlikely to worry investors and will be seen as one-offs that have a good chance of being compensated for over the rest of the calendar year.

Read more

Environmental headwinds buffet BHP in Colombia – by Brian Robins (Sydney Morning Herald – July 1, 2013)

In the wake of heightened environmental sensitivities to the activities of mining companies in Latin America, BHP Billiton’s plans to expand a nickel mine in Columbia have been blocked.

Governments in the region from Chile to Argentina have forced several global mining companies to rethink mine applications in response to growing criticism over the industry’s rising incursions.

Late last week, Colombia’s environmental licensing authority, Autoridad Nacional de Licencias Ambientales, turned down a request from BHP Billiton’s Cerro Matoso nickel mine to expand the site, according to wire reports. Cerro Matoso is the second largest producer of ferro nickel globally.

The request was denied because existing environmental permits cannot be modified to enable mining projects to be expanded, the environmental authority said.

The BHP Billiton project, which has operated for many years, produced more than 47,000 tonnes of nickel last year. The mine taps a laterite nickel deposit that is used as feedstock at a ferro-nickel smelter nearby. Most nickel is used to produce stainless steel.

Read more

RPT-BHP entry threatens creaking global potash duopoly – by Ron Bousso and Polina Devitt (Reuters U.K. – June 10, 2013)

(Reuters) – The prospect of new competition from miner BHP Billiton could dynamite the cracks appearing in a potash duopoly that accounts for 70 percent of global trade in the fertiliser.

For decades two export groups, Belarus Potash Company (BPC), which represents producers in Russia and Belarus, and Canpotex, its North American equivalent, have set identical prices in key markets such as China and India and have often curbed output simultaneously.

That choreography, which smaller players also dance in step with, is already under fire; four producers in the groups – BPC’s Uralkali, and Canpotex’s three members Potash Corp of Saskatchewan, Agrium and Mosaic – recently agreed to pay over $100 million to settle a U.S. antitrust lawsuit accusing them of concerted action to raise prices.

Canpotex and BPC did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but the producers have denied the accusations, and Uralkali said “potash producers and traders do not agree with each other on prices and pursue their own pricing policies”. Their footwork has also faltered under the strain of falling prices in recent months, and the music could stop altogether if BHP goes ahead with the 8 million tonne per year Jansen mine in western Canada, which would be the world’s largest potash mine if it opens as scheduled in 2017.

Read more


Above video from the Brisbane Times website:



London – 6 June 2013

Tonight I amhere to talk about our global industry: where we have come from; where we are today; and where we are going.

Mining was a low-growth businessfor much of the 20th century so we were caught off-guard by the pace of China’s early-21st century urbanisation and industrialisation. It has changed our industry:

Read more

More ‘tough love’ in store at BHP – by Brian Robins (Sydney Morning Herald – May 30, 2013)

BHP Billiton has flagged its coal division is in for more ”tough love” as it puts underperforming mines on the block and winds back capital spending against the backdrop of a tough global market which is not expected to turn up any time soon.

BHP has forced suppliers to renegotiate contracts following a collapse in earnings of the division, which is barely breaking even following a sustained profit slide over the past few years.

Believed to be on the block is the Gregory coking coal mine in Queensland, which was partly shut down last year due to low coal prices. It has also shut the Norwich Park mine nearby as it moves to ”simplify” its portfolio.

BHP is also negotiating with the Navajo Nation over the sale of its mine in New Mexico, US, which, according to reports, could raise an estimated $US85 million.

”We will selectively pursue asset divestment opportunities with a firm focus on value,” BHP told analysts on Wednesday. ”Assets must earn their right to remain in the portfolio.”

Read more

COLUMN-Commodity companies’ cost-cutting stampede yet to work – by Clyde Russell (Reuters U.K. – May 20, 2013)

Clyde Russellis a Reuters market analyst. The views expressed are his own.

LAUNCESTON, Australia, May 20 (Reuters) – If you ever needed an example of the corporate herd mentality, then look no further than the stampede of cost-cutting among commodity producers started by BHP Billiton.

Since the Anglo-Australian miner moved last August to scrap or delay projects and slash operating costs, mining and energy companies have been rushing to do the same.

In the past few months, no less than $15 billion of cuts in capital and operating expenditures have been announced, and this is likely just a small percentage of reductions still to come.

What started as concern among investors in BHP Billiton and its fellow Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto over excessive capex amid slowing demand growth for commodities from top consumer China has spread across the world.

In recent weeks several Canadian miners have announced cuts to capex, and newly-merged Glencore Xstrata has promised aggressive cost-cutting, with some investors confident it will exceed its target of $500 million in reductions.

Read more

New era of austerity at BHP -by Barry Fitzgerald (The Australian – May 10, 2013)

BHP Billiton’s new chief executive Andrew Mackenzie has launched the world’s biggest resources group on a relentless productivity drive, aimed at improving shareholder returns against a backdrop of fading commodity prices.

Mr Mackenzie formally takes the reins at BHP today, with the Scottish polyglot and sometime saxophone player spending the day at BHP’s iron ore operations in the Pilbara.

He replaces the man who hand-picked him as a likely successor more than five years ago, the vegetarian Afrikaner Marius Kloppers, known as much for his safe hands during the global financial crisis as his idiosyncratic tendencies.

Speaking to The Australian before his first day as chief executive, Mr Mackenzie said there would be no big-bang change in BHP’s strategy. It would evolve over time under his leadership, but securing productivity improvements was the immediate focus, replacing the previous focus on production growth.

“Ultimately, we won’t be changing much of it at all. We will probably just be even more clear that our future prosperity is going to be based on a small number of world-class tier-one orebodies,” Mr Mackenzie said. “We are likely to invest less, and therefore the principal way we intend to grow the returns from our businesses is by driving productivity.”

Read more

BHP nets $650m on sale of Arizona mine – by Allan Seccombe (Business Day – April 30, 2013)

BHP Billiton, the world’s largest resources group, has sold a small, noncore copper mine in Arizona and an associated railway company for $650m, bringing its sale of assets in the past year to $5bn, BHP announced on Monday.

Analysts widely expect further asset sales from Australia-based BHP after Marius Kloppers stepped down as CEO. He was replaced by Andrew Mackenzie who has said he will focus on securing profit margins and cash flows by ensuring optimal performances from the group’s assets.

BHP sold Pinto Valley and the San Manuel Arizona Railroad Company to Canada’s Capstone Mining for $650m in cash in a deal subject to regulatory approval. The transaction should be concluded in the second half of this year.

“The sale of Pinto Valley is an excellent outcome for BHP Billiton shareholders,” Peter Beaven, president of BHP Billiton Copper, said yesterday. “It is consistent with our strategy and it takes the transaction value of divestments announced over the last 12 months to $5bn.”

Analysts said the price was well above what the market was expecting and that it was no surprise BHP was selling the business because of its small size and limited remaining life.

Read more

Colombian miners hit out at Anglo American – by John Vidal (The Guardian – April 15, 2013)

The joint owners of the Cerrejón opencast mine will be accused at its annual meeting of jeopardising the health of 13,000 people

Communities from Colombia, Mongolia, South Africa and the US will demonstrate in London this week against some of the world’s largest mining companies, which they say are devastating the health of people, widely polluting the environment and forcing communities to move.

Anglo American, joint owners of the giant Cerrejón opencast coal mine in northern Colombia with BHP Billiton and Xstrata, will be accused at its annual meeting on Friday of jeopardising the health of the 13,000 people who live or work close to the operation that provides coal for power stations in Britain and Europe.

“We have had to suffer the impacts of opencast coal mining for over 25 years now. Our communities have been gradually and systematically asphyxiated by the contamination caused by coal mining, our societies [have been] fractured,” said Julio Gomez, president of Fecodemigua, the Federation of Communities Displaced by Mining in La Guajira, in London.

Around 500m of the total estimated 5bn tonnes of coal have been mined from Cerrejón since it opened in 1985, but the largest mine in Latin America plans to increase production by 25% in the next three years.

Read more

Jansen project seeking green light from BHP board – by Pav Jordan (Globe and Mail – April 15, 2013)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Saskatchewan’s giant Jansen potash project seems just a signature away from final approval, but don’t hold your breath on a decision from the board of BHP Billiton Ltd.

The world’s largest miner is working on the production and service shafts, which are the longest lead items of potash-mine development. The $14-billion project still needs a green light on design engineering after deciding to double initial output on Jansen.

“We are finalizing this design engineering as part of the Jansen project feasibility study, which will be presented to the BHP Billiton board,” said company spokesman Ruban Yogarajah. “While this occurs, we will finish building the camp and continue shaft excavation and site preparation.”

Once built, Jansen is expected to be the world’s largest potash mine, dwarfing even those of BHP’s nearest rival, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., which has mines nearby.

The mine, set in flat prairie lands about 150 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon, is a bet by BHP Billiton that potash, a crop nutrient, will become the world’s most important mined commodity as global food demand rises with new demand from emerging economies, where increasing affluence is changing eating habits.

Read more

Billiton weighs mine expansion – by Scott Larson (Saskatoon Star Phoenix – April 11, 2013)

BHP Billiton still has plenty of work to do on its proposed $12-billion Jansen potash project before it can take the next step and submit the project to its board for final approval. The Australian mining giant has said it will hold off giving the green light to any major new projects, including Jansen, until at least June 30.

At a Bloomberg conference in Sydney on Wednesday, BHP’s chief financial officer, Graham Kerr, indicated the Jansen project could be presented to the board in the next financial year. That means the Jansen project could go before the board early as this July or as late as June 2014.

A recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald said Jansen is “likely to be among those considered first” once the freeze has been lifted.

BHP spokeswoman Bronwyn Wilkinson said there is still a substantial amount of work to be done and no time frame has been set as to when the Jansen project will be presented to the board for approval.

“The Jansen project is in feasibility study phase and remains subject to BHP Billiton board sanction,” Wilkinson said. BHP’s decision to increase Jansen’s first phase from its initial production of two million tonnes per annum (2mtpa) of potash to at least 4mtpa “requires extensive additional engineering design, particularly on the surface infrastructure.”

Read more

Iron Ore Bear Market Looms as Supply Swamps Demand: Commodities – by Phoebe Sedgman ( – April 4, 2013)

Iron ore is heading toward its first surplus in at least a decade as output expands and Chinese steel mills, the biggest buyers, boost production at the slowest pace in five years.

Seaborne supply will advance 9.1 percent and demand 8.3 percent in 2013, led by exporters from Perth-based Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. (FMG) to Vale SA (VALE5), Morgan Stanley forecasts. A surplus will emerge in 2014 and keep widening until at least 2018, the bank predicts. Prices will slump as much as 34 percent to $90 a ton by the end of December, according to the median of seven analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Exports of the biggest seaborne cargo after oil are surging the most since 2010 after prices jumped as much as sevenfold in the past nine years. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. expects China’s imports to climb 4 percent in 2013, the least in three years. Its steel output will expand 2.6 percent as the nation’s economy grows at the second-slowest pace in the past decade, according to estimates from Morgan Stanley and economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

“We’ve got a steady lift of supply, mainly out of Australia,” said Tom Price, the Sydney-based analyst at UBS AG who has covered the market for about a decade. “We’ve observed for a couple of years now moderation in demand growth in China. A combination of those two is why we’re bearish.”

Read more

Profits Drop at Big Five Miners – by Reuters (New York Times – February 12, 2013)

MELBOURNE — Global mining companies are set to unveil their biggest profit decreases in more than a decade and are clearing the decks with multibillion-dollar write-downs on poorly performing assets as they bring in new chief executives.

A sharp drop in commodity prices is likely to have driven down profits for the second half of last year by 40 percent to 50 percent at the top five mining companies when compared with the same period in 2011, forcing them to shelve expansion projects, slash costs and sell assets.

For the top three — BHP Billiton; Vale, based in Brazil; and Rio Tinto — iron ore earnings are likely to cushion losses in coal, aluminum and nickel for the period.

Chief executives are being punished for splurging in the boom years on projects and acquisitions instead of rewarding shareholders more generously, and investors are calling for Rio Tinto and BHP to rethink their policies.

One of the 10 largest shareholders in BHP and Rio Tinto’s Australian-traded stocks said his fund had been pressing both to pay out more of their profit to shareholders. The shareholder, Ross Barker, the managing director of Australian Foundation Investment, said that the companies were not paying higher dividends to shareholders so they could use the funds for investments that would deliver attractive returns.

Read more

BHP Billiton faces corruption probe over Beijing Olympics – by Sonali Paul and Lucy Hornby (Reuters Canada – March 13, 2013)

MELBOURNE/BEIJING (Reuters) – The U.S. government is investigating top global miner BHP Billiton Ltd for possible corrupt practices, the company confirmed, after media reports said it was being probed for its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Australia’s Fairfax Media reported that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were investigating allegations that BHP provided inducements, hospitality and gifts to Chinese and other foreign officials.

The U.S. Justice Department told Fairfax, in response to a freedom of information request, it was conducting “law enforcement proceedings” involving BHP, which supplied the materials for gold, silver and bronze medals used in Beijing. The Department of Justice declined to comment after U.S. office hours on Tuesday.

Australian police confirmed they had been working with foreign counterparts and local regulators on Australian aspects of the U.S. investigation, without providing further details.

BHP said it had been cooperating with “relevant authorities”, and in response to media queries said it believed it had complied with all applicable laws in regards to its Olympics sponsorship.

“BHP Billiton is fully committed to operating with integrity and the Group’s policies specifically prohibit engaging in bribery in all its forms,” BHP said in an emailed statement.

Read more

BHP eyes $3.9bn nickel float – by Barry Fitzgerald (The Australian – February 26, 2013)

BHP Billiton has cranked up the potential for a $US4 billion ($3.89bn) spin-off of its ailing nickel division by making a big high-grade nickel discovery near its Perseverance mine at Leinster, 375km north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

Industry circles have been buzzing about the new find, which BHP has called Venus after the brightest planet visible to the naked eye. It follows last year’s big nickel-copper Nova discovery in WA by Mark Creasy’s Sirius, the brightest star.

BHP yesterday would not be drawn on the scale of the Venus find, saying that the prospect was still in its early stages of delineation and development, so no guidance on reserves could be given.

However, the company also said that at this early stage, Venus had the potential “to reshape the profitably and direction of the Nickel West business”.

“Venus’s key attributes — mainly its high nickel grades and proximity to existing mining infrastructure — give it clear potential to materially increase Nickel West’s mining inventory and reshape the profitably and direction of the Nickel West business,” BHP told The Australian.

Read more