BHP profits slide but SA operations make their mark

The acquisition of OZ Minerals earlier this year has been a boon to miner BHP, but its profits were slashed by more than half due to lower commodity prices and inflationary pressures.

Aug 22, 2023, updated Aug 22, 2023
Inside BHP's Olympic Dam mine. Photo: BHP.

Inside BHP's Olympic Dam mine. Photo: BHP.

The Melbourne-headquartered company posted a $20.1 billion profit for the last financial year, down 58 per cent on the prior period, but SA operations proved a jewel in the miner’s crown.

Following the $9.6 billion acquisition of OZ Mineralsone of SA’s top five companies according to InDaily’s South Australian Business Index – BHP says the creation of its “copper province” has resulted in a rise in earnings.

Overall, earnings from the SA copper province were 72 per cent higher at $1 billion due to higher sales volumes at Olympic Dam, supported by record production of the metal at the site according to BHP.

Record gold production in the last financial year also drove the earnings rise, as well as the contribution of sales from both OZ Minerals’ Prominent Hill and Carrapateena operations in the post-acquisition period.

Results were offset by higher operating costs at Olympic Dam, the impacts of inflation on the cost base, and higher exploration spend in relation to drilling at Oak Dam and Olympic Dam.

“Following the acquisition of OZL, we are focused on building scale and optionality across the new Copper South Australia province,” BHP said.

“Initial integration activity is now complete, where the focus was on safety, people and culture, operational productivity and stability.

“We expect to realise a range of synergies in the short term, by integrating supply chains and reducing corporate overheads and compliance costs, and in the long term by optimising growth projects.”

Mike Henry, BHP Chief Executive Officer & David Lamont, BHP Chief Financial Officer. Photo: BHP.

The acquisition of OZ Minerals meant most of the South Australian company’s 660 workers would be kept on as BHP took over the company’s copper and gold mines at Prominent Hill and Carrapateena, along with its West Musgrave copper and nickel project in Western Australia plus interests in Brazil.

In a media conference this morning, CEO Mike Henry said the copper precinct’s prospects were “compelling”.

“As we’ve seen in other assets like iron ore and coal in Queensland, when you can have a number of different mines feeding common infrastructure, not only does it open up efficiencies it opens up optionality,” Henry said.

“The copper resources in South Australia – both Olympic Dam and Oak Dam as well as the OZ Minerals assets – are big resources and so the inherent opportunity to grow is quite compelling.”

Total SA copper production for BHP was 232 kilotons – up 68 per cent on the prior year – and included a 20 kiloton contribution from the OZ Minerals mines. BHP expects the copper province to deliver 310-340 kilotons in FY24.

Henry said that overall results for the full year “were strong”.

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“Our financial results for the year were strong, underpinned by reliable production together with capital and cost discipline as we managed lower commodity prices and inflationary pressures,” he said.

“Our balance sheet is robust and deliberately positioned to support portfolio growth in commodities the world needs for population growth, urbanisation and decarbonisation.

“In Canada, our investment in potash is progressing at pace with first production at Jansen on track for the latter half of 2026, and we are creating a new copper province in South Australia following the acquisition of OZ Minerals. We are investing strategically in new ideas, technologies and countries through exploration and early-stage copper and nickel prospects to capture future growth opportunities.”

Henry stressed demand for its commodities remained “relatively robust” in China and India, “even as developed world economies have slowed substantially”.

“In the near term, China’s trajectory is contingent on the effectiveness of recent policy measures,” he said.

“We expect buoyant growth in India with strong construction activity underpinning an expansion in steelmaking capacity.

“More broadly, there is increased recognition of the importance of critical minerals and strategies across the globe to incentivise investment in supply and demand, which provides opportunities and challenges.”

BHP said that in the long run, it expects the infrastructure required for decarbonisation, rising living standards and global population growth will drive demand for steel, non-ferrous metals and fertilisers.

“On the cost front, we expect that the lag effect of the inflation peaks observed in FY23 and continued labour market tightness will continue to impact our cost base throughout FY24,” BHP said.

The company said it was focused on increasing annual production at WAIO to more than 305 million tonnes, with an eye on growth to 330 million tonnes per annum in coming years.

Longer term, BHP expects strength in nickel from the “electrification mega-trend”, and demand for a reliable battery mineral supply chain.

BHP announced a fully franked final dividend of US$0.80 per share – its third highest full year ordinary dividend ever – bringing the total cash return to shareholders for the year to US$1.70 per share. In Australian dollar terms, this equates to a $1.25 per share return for shareholders.

– with AAP

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