BHP’s Records

Eight successive half year record profits in a row, capped by the latest which pushed the annual result of the world's biggest miner up 35% to $US13.7 billion (or $A16.27 billion at yesterday's exchange rate of 80.24 USc for the Australian dollar).

That was up from the $US10.15 billion earned in 2006, which itself was a record. The company earned around $US7.2 in the second half.

It was CEO Chip Goodyear's final profit announcement before he leaves in October and it was a big one.

The shares rose 5% in London trading and they will kick higher here today.

Reported net profit including one-offs was $US13.42 billion. Final dividend was lifted to 27 USc a share from 18.5 USc, taking the total for the year to 47 USc, up 30.6% from 2006's 36 USc a share.

And the company forecast a strong outlook, thanks to a still booming China, but it warned of increasing volatility in commodity prices (as we have seen since the start of the 2008 financial year with all major commodities down).

It said that while commodity prices are likely to stay relatively high, labour markets remain constrained and wages are rising.

Costs, prices and inflation were an especial problem in Australia and South Africa.

"The global economy remains robust, driven by solid activity in Asia and Europe," BHP Billiton said.

"Economic fundamentals remain relatively strong, unemployment remains low and the supply of labour is still constrained.

"This is resulting in rising wages and increased household consumption."

BHP Billiton said Asian economies, led by China, continue to demonstrate growth, with India's economy continuing to gather pace.

"In Europe, solid growth is being supported by accommodative monetary conditions, rebounding consumption and strong German industrial activity," BHP Billiton said.

"The US economy continues to soften, with the housing sector acting as a drag on activity.

"The Japanese household sector is also experiencing weakness, increasing risks of deflation later in the year."

It also said that the rate of growth in the Chinese economy shows no sign of abating, with economic growth expected to be maintained or perhaps accelerate over the second half of calendar 2007.

"Despite moderating US economic growth, global economic fundamentals remain strong and the ongoing strength shown by emerging Asian economies (including China) should support global growth," the miner said.

"Moreover, the competitiveness of open Asian economies is likely to continue to place downward pressure on inflation, which should in turn provide greater flexibility for accommodative monetary policy stances taken by key central banks."

On the whole analysts were positive in their initial reactions: earnings were about where most had forecast but the final dividend of 27 USc was above expectations.

A disappointment was that there was no additional capital management program, although one boosted earlier in the year is continuing. Directors said that $US6.3 billion of US$13.0 billion capital management program, announced earlier in 2007, had been completed representing 5.2% of outstanding shares.

BHP Billiton shares eased 10c to $A35.40. The results came out five minutes before the 4 pm trading close. The shares rose in London trading where the reception was positive.

BHP is up 41% so far this year compared to a more sedate 5.7% rise in the ASX 200 index in the same period.

Rival Rio Tinto, the world's third biggest miner, posted a 6% fall in its interim profit earlier this month with rising costs undermining stronger demand and higher prices.

BHP said that net of non-cash costs, costs rose 3.6% over the year, down from the 5.1% rise in the first half. That impressed analysts.

In its statement to the ASX, BHP Billiton said that records were achieved across all key earnings measures including underlying EBITDA up 27.1% to US$23.0 billion and Underlying EBIT up 31.4% to US$20.1 billion.

It said attributable profit was up 34.7% to US$13.7 billion and EPS up 39.1%, benefiting from ongoing buy-backs (both measures excluding exceptionals).

Record Underlying EBIT margin and Return on Capital Employed increased to 48.4% and 38.4% respectively. This is the sixth consecutive record for both measures; record net operating cash flow of US$15.6 billion, up 48.9%.

As reported earlier, the company saw annual production records for natural gas, alumina, aluminium, copper, nickel, iron ore, manganese ore and metallurgical coal. Directors said they expected significant volume growth in 2008 in oil, copper, iron ore and nickel.

Directors said there are 15 major projects (defined as BHP Billiton's share of capital expenditure of greater than US$100 million) under development with a total budgeted investment of US$12,781 million.

"Exploration continues to be an important focus. In our minerals businesses we are undertaking exploration in 28 countries, while Petroleum exploration is underway in eight countries. $US805 million was spent on exploration in the year," directors said.

About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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