BHP's Kloppers blunt on Australia's mining outlook

BHP's Kloppers blunt on Australia's mining outlook

BHP's Kloppers blunt on Australia's mining outlook

Updated 24 August 2012, 13:49 AEST

BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers on Olympic Dam and the future of the Australian coal industry in a British media briefing.

However, Mr Kloppers says the MRRT, carbon tax and a general rise in costs and fall in prices are threatening coal projects on Australia's east coast.

Read a transcript of his discussion with British journalists:

JESSE RISEBOROUGH, BLOOMBERG: Marius, right now, how would you assess the risk that the Olympic Dam expansion will never be done?

MARIUS KLOPPERS: It is about the same risk that any other project that has not been approved has of not going ahead.

What is the risk of us never doing the Spence project or the next phase of the Escondida expansion, or indeed building the next mine in iron ore? We have this whole portfolio of options.

I know that the Olympic Dam captures the mind perhaps a little bit more than the others, but in reality it is part of the same option set.

If it does not go ahead, what I do know is there are many times the opportunity within the current portfolio than we have got cashflow, personnel and means to do.

HELEN THOMAS, FINANCIAL TIMES: I have a related question. This morning, the South Australian Premier said that future approvals would come 'at a cost'. From your discussions with them, what do you interpret that to mean?

MARIUS KLOPPERS: The discussions have only just started. Let us see where this goes. We clearly spoke to him prior to the release and he has made a statement. Time will tell. It is too early to call.

Later in the briefing, journalists returned to the topic of Olympic Dam and Australia's commodity outlook.

EMMA ROWLEY, THE TELEGRAPH: Back to the Olympic Dam again, sorry. How much has Australian mining tax played into that decision?

MARIUS KLOPPERS: It is not subject to mining tax. Mining tax is only on coal and iron ore, nothing to do with that. This is about capex escalation and efficiencies that have made that an unviable project.

EMMA ROWLEY: I have seen some commentary and the political reaction.

MARIUS KLOPPERS: I have seen that. I am just stating the facts as they are.

This is an escalation in capex, driven by labour efficiencies, tight labour market, tight supplier market, high exchange rates and high diesel costs, which has made a concept we thought would work unviable.

EMMA ROWLEY: There are people who think it is politically motivated.

MARIUS KLOPPERS: You have to ask them. I can tell you it is capex.

EMMA ROWLEY: There have been reports from Deutsche saying that Australia might be heading into recession. Do you have a view on that?

MARIUS KLOPPERS: I do think that what I am seeing on the Eastern Seaboard in Australia is that the coal industry has been very heavily impacted by lower prices, higher operating costs, carbon taxes and increased royalties.

As a result, my take is that a very substantial chunk of the energy coal production and a sizeable proportion of the metallurgical coal production is non-cash generative at today's cost structures and prices.

Therefore, it seems to me that there is broad industry movement towards personnel reductions, contractor stand-downs and so on in that coal industry. You have seen us do some of that.

I was also very clear this morning in the results that if the exchange rate stays high and you pay extra royalties and taxes and your labour is more expensive and the price of the product is lower, then particularly small, high-strip-ratio, open-cut mines are differentially impacted by the combination of those factors.

You have heard us say before that if it does not make cash then we will curtail it. That seems to be the case in the industry at large. Certainly I have heard things from Xstrata, Rio, Yancoal, Whitehaven and ourselves. I may have missed Anglo, but it pretty much covers the suite of operators in Australia.

EMMA ROWLEY: Do you think that you will have to eventually U-turn on this?

MARIUS KLOPPERS: I do not know. I can probably quote my compatriot Tom Albanese better on the topic, because he was unusually clear, two or three months ago when they talked about it.

It is very difficult to visualise, given the current set of conditions and outlook, that any mining company can approve new capital in the coal business at this point and get a return. Those may not be the exact words that he used, but I think it amounted to that. I would say that is probably the space we are in as well.

Transcript supplied by BHP Billiton.