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BHP Billiton says profit down 56.5 per cent

business Updated: Feb 04, 2009 23:30 IST
BHP Billiton says profit down 56.5 per cent

The world's largest miner, BHP Billiton, reported a 56.5 per cent slump in first-half profit on Wednesday, warning the financal crisis left the outlook for commodities weak and uncertain.

But with revenues up nearly 17 per cent, and much of the decline in profit attributed to write-downs, chief executive Marius Kloppers said BHP had the cash to weather the crisis and benefit from an eventual recovery.

The Anglo-Australian giant was riding a China-driven boom until the middle of last year, and Kloppers acknowledged its abrupt end in the face of the global economic slowdown had taken the industry by surprise.

"It's fair to say that we, like all or most other people, did not see the speed or the dramatic nature of the downturn that has occurred, which is simply unlike anything certainly I have seen before," he said.

BHP said profit for the six months to December fell to 2.62 billion US dollars -- down 4.0 billion -- as asset write-downs and plummeting demand hit the bottom line.

"We'd probably describe the further outlook as continuing to be weak, uncertain and volatile," Kloppers said.

But stripping out the one-off items, including charges related to the firm's abandoned bid to buy rival Rio Tinto, profit was up 2.2 per cent to 6.1 billion dollars, slightly off analyst estimates.

Revenues rose 16.6 per cent to 29.8 billion dollars and net cashflow was up 73.9 per cent to 13.1 billion dollars.

"Being in a position to have robust cashflow gives us opportunities as others falter," Kloppers said. "The relative cashflow-poor nature of other operations is bound to throw up opportunities for us going forward."

China's once red-hot economy fuelled a decade-long boom in Australia, and the firm said in a statement it did not expect the "rapid deterioration" of recent months, as the slowdown has intensified, would continue indefinitely.

"We expect that commodity price weakness and volatility will persist," it said. "However in the long term, we expect continued strong growth in demand for commodities from China and other emerging economies."

BHP last month slashed about 6,000 jobs, or six percent of its global workforce, because of the downturn and Kloppers refused to rule out further cuts.

The asset write-downs had been previously flagged, and BHP's share price gained 52 cents, or 1.7 per cent, to 30.3 Australian dollars around midday on the Australian stock market.

The most significant one-off loss was a decision to shelve the Ravensthorpe nickel mine in Western Australia, which cost 3.36 billion dollars before tax.

Other items included the abandoned offer for Rio Tinto and increased rehabilitation provisions for the Newcastle steelworks in Australia.