BHP Billiton Sees Stability

08/24/2009 2:07 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

When I added BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP) to my Jubak Picks 50 portfolio in my book The Jubak Picks, I said that the company was a one-buy way to get exposure to a wide spectrum of commodities. (For an alternative to BHP Billiton, see my August 18 post on Vale (VALE).)

In the first half of 2009, that diversification paid off big, as the company reported on August 12. The company’s iron ore business reported an operating profit of $6.2 billion, while the base metals division (copper, lead, zinc, and such) reported $4.6 billion in operating profits, and the oil business reported $4 billion in operating profits.

That diversification didn’t prevent company revenue from falling (by 16% from the first half of 2008) or pre-tax profits from plunging by 67% from the first half of 2008.

But it did provide enough stability so that the company was able to maintain its dividend payout of 41 cents a year for the six-month period. Competitors Xstrata (LSE: XTA.L) and Anglo American (OTC: AUKY.PK) have both suspended their dividends.

That stability has also enabled the company to press ahead with one of the mining industry’s biggest capital spending plans. In the next 12 months, the company will invest $5.8 billion in its iron ore joint venture in Western Australia with Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP). Other capital projects in that period come to a little more than $11 billion.

That should ensure enough internal growth to keep the company cooking on all divisions—if only the global economy cooperates.

BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers noted that global commodities markets are still hard to read. It looks like China, which had drawn down its stockpiles of iron, copper, and other commodities earlier in the slowdown, has pretty much finished restocking its inventories, Kloppers said. So demand from China may be set to taper off. But the slack could well be picked up by restocking from the United States and Europe, which have both drawn down commodity inventories.

At some point, of course, end demand has to pick up again, or these replenished inventories will just sit there on the ground.

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