Company officials at Australia-based BHP Billiton have announced plans to cut annual spending to $15 billion from the $21.7 the mining titan invested in projects last year amid softening demand from China and other emerging markets while seeking to improve balance sheets.
BHP had already implemented sharp cuts in 2013 through the end of Q2 2014, and aims to report further near-term reductions up to 25% toward being “more clever with capital,” as CEO Andrew Mackenzie recently told investors; coal is forecast to contribute 19% of worldwide growth through 2015. The miner has a $16.2 billion budget for this fiscal year and has lifted temporary suspension on significant new project approval upon investment of $2.6 billion in Canada’s Jansen potash project.
The Melbourne-based BHP is not alone. In particular, gold prices are down 35% since Q3 2011 peak, according to analysts, while thermal coal and iron ore have declined 31% and 27% over the same period, respectively. Rio Tinto, accordingly, has slashed its 2015 capital expenditure budget to $8 billion from more than $17 billion in 2012. Brazilian iron-ore miner Vale S.A., too, has disclosed a 2014 budget nearly 20% smaller than its 2011 peak level.
The slowdown is hammering economies like Australia’s, which relies heavily on exports of mineral commodities including iron ore and coal. In fact, overall investments in Australia’s resource projects have plummeted at their fastest pace for 14 years, according to analysts. Worse still, Canberra government officials have said spending in their country’s resources sector could even plunge by more than 75% by 2018.
BHP is targeting production increases in key divisions such as iron ore and coal largely through productivity improvements, Mackenzie said. The company's coal business in Australia’s Queensland state, he added, could likely exceed its targeted capacity of 66 million tons a year with no extra spending.
BHP, he added, has further ambitions to raise iron-ore output in the prolific Pilbara region by 30 million tons over coming years by enhancing infrastructure at eight pits. In addition, company officials have replaced two ship loaders at their Nelson Point operations at Port Hedland in Western Australia for $301 million.