Profit at world’s biggest miner BHP jump, but warns on costs, savings

BHP’s revenue from copper surged by nearly 60 percent backed by higher production from its Escondida mine in Chile, above. (Reuters)
Updated 21 August 2018
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Profit at world’s biggest miner BHP jump, but warns on costs, savings

  • The world’s biggest miner said it expected its strong momentum to continue into the medium term
  • BHP paid out a record final dividend of $0.63 a share, up from $0.43 a year ago, on the back of free cashflow of $12.5 billion
MELBOURNE: Global miner BHP posted a 33 percent jump in annual underlying profit and a record final dividend on Tuesday, but flagged a delay in future savings as well as cost pressures at some of its operations.
The world’s biggest miner, which has been focusing on simplifying its business and driving returns to shareholders, said it expected its strong momentum to continue into the medium term.
However, BHP Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie said the miner was “a little more apprehensive” on the short-term outlook, given trade ructions between China and the United States, and analysts flagged concerns over rising costs.
For the year ended June 30, underlying profit, which excludes one-time gains and losses, rose to $8.93 billion from $6.73 billion, just below an estimate of $9.27 billion according to 15 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
BHP paid out a record final dividend of $0.63 a share, up from $0.43 a year ago, on the back of free cashflow of $12.5 billion from a strong operating performance and higher commodity prices. “A pretty solid result really. I think largely in line with what the market expected,” said portfolio manager Andy Forster of Argo Investments in Melbourne. “Definitely the cash flow was strong, the dividend probably a bit stronger than what we expected.”
However, a cut in productivity gains expected in fiscal 2019 — to $1 billion from a previously promised $2 billion — “slightly took the gloss off the results,” he added, although the miner pledged to make the additional savings in 2020.
BHP also noted some cost creep due to geotechnical issues at its Queensland coal operations, rising fuel costs, and pockets of inflation in labor.
“The dividend was better than expected, but the slight fiscal 2018 (earnings) miss and fiscal 2019 cost guidance is likely to cause us to take down estimates modestly,” broker Clarkson Platou said in a report
Shares in BHP fell 1.8 percent in afternoon trading, compared with a 1 percent fall in the broader Australian market and a 0.8 percent dip in rival Rio Tinto.
Including one-time charges, BHP’s profit fell 37 percent to $3.71 billion.
These included a $2.8 billion post-tax charge from the sale of BHP’s US shale oil and gas assets in July which ended a disastrous seven-year foray into shale.
BHP said that it would not make a decision on how to return profits from the sale to investors until it was finalized.
The company also took a $650 million charge for the 2015 Samarco dam failure in Brazil that killed 19 people.
Total revenue rose 20 percent to $45.81 billion. Revenue from iron ore mining, BHP’s biggest division, edged up 1.3 percent, while copper surged by nearly 60 percent backed by higher production from its Escondida mine in Chile.
Revenue from its petroleum division grew 14.5 percent on surging oil prices.
BHP said it cut net debt to $10.9 billion, at the lower end of its $10-15 billion target.


Record budget spurs Saudi economy

The budget sets out to lift spending and cut the deficit. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Record budget spurs Saudi economy

  • “It is a growth-supportive budget with both capital and current expenditure set to rise.”
  • Government spending is projected to rise to SR 1.106 trillion

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced its biggest-ever budget — with spending set to increase by around 7 percent — in a move aimed at boosting the economy, while also reducing the deficit. 

However, analysts cautioned that the 2019 budget is based on oil prices far higher than today — which could prove an obstacle in hitting targets. 

Government spending is projected to rise to SR 1.106 trillion ($295 billion) next year, up from an actual SR 1.030 trillion this year, Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at a briefing in Riyadh. 

The budget estimates a 9 percent annual increase in revenues to SR 975 billion. The budget deficit is forecast at SR 131 billion for next year, a 4.2 percent decline on 2018.

“We believe that the 2019 fiscal budget will focus on supporting economic activity — investment and wider,” Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), told Arab News.

“It is a growth-supportive budget with both capital and current expenditure set to rise.”

A royal decree by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, also announced on Tuesday, ordered the continuation of allowances covering the cost of living for civil sector employees for the new fiscal year.

“The continuation of the handout package will be positive for household consumption by nationals,” said Malik. “We expect to see some overall fiscal loosening in 2019, which should support a further gradual pickup in real non-oil GDP growth.”

World oil prices on Tuesday tumbled to their lowest levels in more than a year amid concerns over demand. Brent crude contracts fell to as low as $57.20 during morning trading.

Malik cautioned that the oil-price assumptions in the Saudi budget looked “optimistic.”

“We see the fiscal deficit widening in 2019, with the higher spending and forecast fall in oil revenue,” she told Arab News.

Jason Tuvey, an economist at London-based Capital Economics, agreed that the oil forecast was optimistic, but said this should not pose problems for government finances.

“The government seems to be expecting oil prices to average $80 (per barrel) next year,” he said. 

“In contrast, we think that oil prices will stay low and possibly fall a little further to $55 … On that basis, the budget deficit is likely to be closer to 10 percent of GDP. That won’t cause too many problems given the government’s strong balance sheet. 

“Overall, then, we think that there will be some fiscal loosening in the first half of next year, but if oil prices stay low as we expect, the authorities will probably shift tack and return to austerity from the mid-2019, which will weigh on growth in the non-oil sector,” Tuvey said.

John Sfakianakis, chief economist at the Gulf Research Center, based in Saudi Arabia, said that the targets of the budget were “achievable” and the forecast oil price reasonable. 

“It is an expansionary budget that should spurt private sector activity and growth,” he said. 

“With Brent crude averaging around $68 per barrel for 2018 and $66 per barrel for 2019, the authorities have applied a conservative revenue scenario.”