BHP CEO hangs up coat as profits plunge

Feb 20 2013 07:40
Marius Kloppers

BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers (AFP)

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Sydney - BHP Billiton [JSE:BIL] said on Wednesday its boss Marius Kloppers will leave in May, just weeks after the head of rival miner Rio Tinto stepped down, with profits plunging on weak commodity prices as Chinese demand abates.

After nearly six years at the helm, South African Kloppers will be replaced by Andrew Mackenzie, the chief executive of non-ferrous business at the world's biggest miner.

The departure of Kloppers, who led the firm through the global financial crisis, came on the same day BHP reported that first half net profit plunged 58% to $4.2bn.

Chairperson Jac Nasser gave credit to Kloppers for BHP outperforming rivals.

Demands for change surfaced in November as Kloppers failed to finalise big deals - including a bid for Rio Tinto - while he lost his bonus over hefty US shale gas and oil purchases.

However, the succession process had been expected to take a year or two.

Scotland-born Mackenzie, 56, who has spent 30 years working in oil, gas, petrochemicals and minerals, joined BHP Billiton in November 2008.

His appointment was "very aggressive from a timing point-of-view," said IG Markets strategist Evan Lucas.

"We knew it was coming, but this shows BHP is looking to get on to the front foot with a division it has been keen to invest in over the last few years - petroleum," he said.

The resignation of Kloppers comes weeks after the head of rival Rio, Tom Albanese, stepped down owing to $14.4bn in impairment charges, while on Thursday it logged its first annual loss in 18 years.

And in October Anglo American's US-born CEO Cynthia Carroll said she would step down as it was hit by weak performance as well as slumping platinum output following strike action by workers in South Africa, which resulted in dozens of deaths.

Anglo American on Friday posted an annual net loss of $1.49bn - its first in a decade - after taking a $4.6bn hit on the value of an iron-ore project in Brazil and platinum assets.

A fall in global commodity prices has hit industry giants hard, with key market China in 2012 seeing its worst year of economic growth since 1999, although recent figures point to a strong pick-up in the Asian giant this year.

Despite the fall in commodity prices, BHP said it had fared better than others.

On Wednesday it reported underlying earnings of $9.8bn for the July-December 2012 period, ahead of a consensus of $9.5bn.

Excluding one-off writedowns, earnings dropped 43% to $5.7bn, in line with analyst forecasts.

The result for the six months to December 31 saw revenues fall 14% to $32bn, BHP said in a statement, declaring an interim dividend of 57 cents a share, up 4% from a year ago.

BHP described the results as "solid" in a challenging half-year for the global resources industry but remained guarded about the future.

"Substantially lower commodity prices and resilient producer currencies, such as the Australian dollar and the Chilean peso, weighed on margins and profitability," it said.

"Measured economic stimulus has helped stabilise China's economy," the statement said.

"In the short term, we expect a general improvement in the global economy to support demand and prices for a number of commodities. However, the addition of low cost supply in many markets is expected to dampen the pricing upside."

The Australian government has denied the mining boom is over but analysts say commodity prices appear to have peaked.

BHP Billiton shares were 0.56% weaker, at Aus$38.78 in early trade.

bhp billiton  |  mining



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