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BHP Billiton’s record profits don’t hide industry concerns

August 26, 2011

“Robust demand, industry wide cost pressures and
persistent supply side constraints continued to support the fundamentals for the majority of BHP Billiton’s core commodities. In that context, another strong year of growth in Chinese crude steel production ensured steelmaking material prices were the major contributing factor to the US$17.2 billion price related increase in Underlying EBIT.

However, BHP Billiton has regularly highlighted its belief that costs tend to lag the commodity price cycle as consumable, labour and contractor costs are broadly correlated with the mining industry’s level of activity. In the current environment, tight labour and raw material markets are presenting a challenge for all operators, and BHP Billiton is not immune from that trend. The devaluation of the US dollar and inflation reduced Underlying EBIT by a further US$3.2 billion.”

Source: BHP Billiton news release, August 24 2011


  • BHP Billiton, which uses a fiscal year ending June 31st, reported record full year EBIT of $32bln on revenues of $72bln.
  • The 62% year on year increase in EBIT was mainly caused by ‘uncontrollable’ price increases. BHP managed to increase volumes slightly, but this gain was offset by higher costs of over $1.4bln. In a breakdown of the cost increase BHP estimates approx. half of the increase to be structural.


  • Analysts point at the weakness of BHP’s buy-back program, in which the company runs the risk of overpaying for its own shares. In general the buyback and dividend program reveals the lack of investment options and the hesitance of management to embark on aggressive expansion in the light of global economic and financial uncertainty. Though industry leaders continue to mention supply shortage as key industry driver, they don’t want to end up at the top of the cost curve.
  • Key developments to watch in the coming months are the continuation of China’s rapid growth; high iron ore, copper & coal prices; and survival of the international financial system. If any of these trends turn around, 2011 might well be the peak of the mining industry’s profits, after which the mantra of ‘cost control’ replaces the current theme of ‘capacity growth’.

©2011 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com