Concerns over rising costs and the impact of trade tensions between the United States and China weighed on shares of leading miner BHP on Tuesday after a 33 per cent jump in annual underlying profit still missed forecasts.
But the miner paid a record final dividend and said it expected to hand more money to shareholders on completion of a sale of U.S. shale assets to oil major BP.
Other miners, which have recovered from the commodity price crash of 2015-16, have been handing back chunks of money to shareholders, under pressure not to repeat the reckless purchases of the commodity boom, but also because of the difficulty of finding suitable opportunities for growth.
Many miners are also struggling to make themselves an attractive prospect to investors concerned about sustainability and climate change.
In 2017, BHP came under pressure for change from activist investor Elliott Advisors, which listed a series of demands to raise shareholder returns, including selling off unprofitable shale assets. Elliott on Tuesday declined to comment.
BHP, which said it was seeking reform of its own accord, in July announced BP would buy U.S. shale oil and gas assets from it for $10.5-billion.
The miner said it would make a decision on how to return profits from the sale to investors once the deal was finalised.
Portfolio manager Andy Forster of Argo Investments in Melbourne said Tuesday’s results were solid and the dividend stronger than he had expected.
But the cut in productivity gains expected in the 2019 fiscal year - to $1-billion from a previously promised $2-billion - “slightly took the gloss off the results,” he said, although the miner pledged to make additional savings in 2020.
BHP’s share price in London fell more than 2 per cent before recovering slightly to stand 1 per cent lower at 0940 GMT, while the broader mining index was up 0.03 per cent.
’A LITTLE MORE APPREHENSIVE’
BHP Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie, meanwhile, said the company was “a little more apprehensive” on the short-term outlook, given trade relations between China and the United States.
Escalating tensions between China, the biggest commodity consumer, and the U.S. have spooked metals markets and raised the prospect of reduced Chinese demand. Copper prices on the London Metal Exchange have fallen around 18 per cent from a four-year high touched on June 7.
BMO Capital Markets, which rates BHP “market perform” said the results were “a touch light” versus estimates and flagged 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, supported by higher output and higher prices, just below an estimate of $9.27-billion according to 15 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
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.
Including one-time charges, BHP’s profit fell 37 per cent to $3.71-billion.
BHP on Tuesday announced a $650-million charge for a failure at the Samarco dam, operated jointly by BHP and Vale. The dam collapse in 2015 killed 19 people in Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.
BHP also announced a $2.8-billion post-tax charge from the sale of the U.S. shale oil and gas assets.
Total revenue rose 20 per cent to $45.81-billion. Revenue from iron ore mining, BHP’s biggest division, edged up 1.3 per cent. Copper rose by nearly 60 per cent driven by higher production from Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine, in Chile, where output was hit last year by a 44-day strike.