Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BHP Ramps Up Iron Ore, Petroleum Production Despite Price Slumps

BHP Ramps Up Iron Ore, Petroleum Production Despite Price Slumps

BHP Billiton says it has raised group production by 9 per cent in the December half year, despite slumping prices for its key commodities.

For the 2014 December quarter BHP Billiton lifted iron ore output by 16 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier to 56.4 million tonnes.

That compares with a 12 per cent rise in Rio Tinto's output over the same period, announced yesterday, although Rio remains the bigger producer.

Both companies have lifted output over the past year despite a dramatic slump in benchmark iron ore spot prices in China from around $US135 a tonne in early 2014 to less than $US70 a tonne at the end of last year.

The benchmark Tianjin spot price was at $US67.40 yesterday.

BHP Billiton says cost cuts, some of which are related to the scale associated with extra capacity, are offsetting some of the price declines.

"We are reducing costs and improving both operating and capital productivity across the group faster than originally planned," said the company's chief executive Andrew Mackenzie.

"These improvements will help mitigate some of the impact of lower commodity prices and we remain alert to opportunities to further increase free cash flow."

While iron ore prices have fallen fast, crude oil prices have fallen faster still.

Despite this, BHP Billiton's December quarter petroleum production was 10 per cent higher than the same period a year earlier, although it was 6 per cent down on the September quarter of 2014.

Mr Mackenzie said that BHP Billiton is already cutting back its planned US petroleum investments in response to oil prices which have more than halved from their 2014 peaks.

"We have moved quickly in response to lower prices and will reduce the number of rigs we operate in our onshore US business by approximately 40 per cent by the end of this financial year," he noted in the report.

"Our ongoing shale investment program will remain focused on our liquids-rich Black Hawk acreage. However, we will keep this activity under review and make further changes if we believe defer ring development will create more value than near-term production."

Elsewhere in its portfolio of mines, BHP revealed that metallurgical coal production was up 17 per cent compared to the December quarter a year before.

Energy coal used in power stations saw a 5 per cent rise in output.

Copper production fell 4 per cent in the December quarter compared with a year earlier, alumina was 3 per cent higher, aluminium 15 per cent down and nickel 10 per cent lower.

Despite weak prospects for any price recovery in the short term, BHP Billiton said it is on track to increase petroleum and copper output by 5 per cent this financial year, iron ore by 11 per cent and steel making metallurgical coal by 4 per cent.