BHP Billiton plc (BHP) annual profits surged more than five-fold to $6.7 billion for its 2017 financial year boosted by a rebound in the price for coal and iron ore but missed expectations of an even larger increase.
BHP said Tuesday, Aug. 22, that earnings per share for the 12 months to the end of June was $1.10, up from a loss of $1.20 a year earlier but down on analysts' consensus expectation of $1.35.
Investors were also left disappointed by a hike in the mining company's final dividend, which will triple to $0.43 a share but remain well shy of the average analyst forecast of $0.87 per share.
Despite those misses BHP's Australian-listed shares climbed 1.17% to A$26 ($20.65), as investors hailed a deeper than expected cut to debt and an announcement that the company will seek to exit its U.S. onshore oil business. The miner's London-listed shares gained 2.42% in the first minutes of trading to change hands at 1,398.5.
"As part of our ongoing review of our portfolio, the board and management have determined that our Onshore US assets are non-core and options to exit these assets are being actively pursued," said BHP. "We are examining multiple alternatives but will only divest for value."
Activist investor Elliott Management Corp. has spent months pressuring BHP to sell the shale assets, and spin off the rest of its U.S. oil operations, claiming that the oil business was a poor fit in the mining company and could be worth about $15 billion more as a standalone business.
BHP's CEO Andrew Mackenzie initially rejected those calls, but may have been nudged into a change of heart by Elliot's growing stake in BHP and the looming arrival of a new Chairman, Ken MacKenzie. New York-based Elliott earlier this month said it had raised its stake in BHP to 5% and claimed that the chairman-elect appeared to support a review of the oil business.
Goldman Sachs described BHP's figures as "slightly positive", noting that "the focus will be on the company's plan to exit onshore assets and potential value generation as a result of that. As a result, we expect the shares to react positively to the announcement."
BHP said net debt fell to $16.32 billion, down 37% from $26.1 billion, and leaving net debt at about 0.8 times underlying FY2017 Ebitda of $20.3 billion.
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