04/02/2009 - 09:00

BHP reports 57% drop in H1 net profit

04/02/2009 - 09:00

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BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers has admitted the Ravensthorpe nickel operation was not the "finest investment decision" as the miner reported a 56.5 per cent drop in first half profit.

BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers has admitted the Ravensthorpe nickel operation was not the "finest investment decision" as the miner reported a 56.5 per cent drop in first half profit.

In a conference call this morning, Mr Kloppers warned the volatility in commodities markets and falling demand is likely to continue for some time.

"We, like all, or most other people, did not see the speed or the dramatic nature of the downturn that has occurred," he said.

"We would probably describe the further outlook as continuing to be weak, uncertain and volatile.

"Demand for our products has softened globally."

BHP Billiton has instituted a range of measures to deal with weakening demand, including job and production cuts, and the closure of the Ravensthorpe nickel mine.

Mr Kloppers said that Ravensthorpe was not the "finest investment decision" for the company and reiterated that all of the group's operations remain under continuous review.

At the end of the first half, BHP reported a net impairment charge $US3.51 billion, including $US2.35 billion from the suspension of Ravensthorpe and $US386 million from the abandoned Rio Tinto offer.

The charge dented net profit for the six months to December 31, which fell to $US2.617 billion ($A4.14 billion), from $US6.017 billion in the previous corresponding period.

BHP Billiton's net profit before one-off items was 2.2 per cent higher at $US6.128 billion ($A9.7 billion).

The first half result compared to the range of analysts forecasts for a profit between $US4.85 billion ($A7.67 billion) and $US6.42 billion ($A10.16 billion).

Revenue for the half year increased 16.6 per cent to $US29.78 billion ($A47.12 billion), as underlying earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) rose 23.7 per cent to $US11.9 billion ($A18.83 billion).

Mr Kloppers said that the company had the cashflow and balance sheet to continue to invest throughout the cycle, and indicated that there are some joint venture assets with Rio Tinto that "we wouldn't mind owning 100 per cent of".

Rio Tinto is aiming to significantly pay-down its heavy debt and is reducing capital spend, axing about 14,000 jobs worldwide and increasing asset sales.

Analysts have speculated that Rio Tinto may look to sell out of the Escondida operation in Chile, the world's largest copper mine, and a joint venture between the two companies.

BHP Billiton's profit from operations for the half year fell 23.8 per cent to $US7.224 billion ($A11.43 billion), from the previous corresponding period's $US9.486 billion.

BHP Billiton said costs increased by $US1.872 billion ($A2.96 billion) compared to the corresponding period, and included the impact of higher non-cash costs of $US262 million ($A414.56 million).

The company raised its interim dividend by 41.4 per cent to 41 US cents per share.

BHP Billiton shares gained 12 cents to $29.90 by 1039 AEDT.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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