Elliott wants a review of BHP petroleum

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The rebranding comes at a sensitive time for the company, with US-based hedge fund Elliott Advisors, a significant shareholder, pushing for a restructure and arguing that as much as 50% more value in the stock could be unlocked.

The company was for decades known simply by its acronym, although only changed its name formally to BHP Ltd. a year before the 2001 merger with Billiton PLC when it combined names and adopted a dual London- and Sydney-listed structure.

Elliott has complained of BHP's "chronic underperformance" since it began its assault earlier this year, but has rowed back on earlier calls for the mining giant to have its main listing in London.

Elliott has also unpicked much of BHP's rationale for rejecting its Shareholder Value Unlock Plan proposals, exposing flawed and misleading claims from BHP management on the supposed costs of proposed unification measures, created to defend an entrenched "do nothing" approach.

Elliott's change of the focus of its attack on BHP, its board and management by calling on the company to concentrate more on costs means that of its original proposal, only the spinning off the United States oil and gas operations has been retained.

In a subsequent letter and accompanying presentation provided to BHP today, Elliott reveals extremely broad and deep-rooted shareholder support for proactive steps to be taken by BHP management to review its petroleum business.

"Substantial advances in the operating capability and capital productivity of our shale assets continue to lower drilling and completion costs, supporting returns on invested capital in excess of 30% on incremental investments", Mackenzie said.

One of the vectors of Elliott's attack on BHP has been its petroleum business.

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On its website, fixingbhp.com, Elliott also criticized BHP's track record on share buybacks and suggested the company make a $6-billion buyback in 2018. "We will pursue only those options that fully realize the value of our acreage".

The plan would also raise BHP's market value by $5 billion and likely cost about $200 million, as opposed to the producer's estimate of about $1.3 billion, the fund said.

Studies on the Olympic Dam expansion "are progressing well". The use of technology could add another $12 billion.

Our focused Petroleum exploration program has an unrisked value of over US$20 billion, close to a quarter of which sits in low to medium risk prospects to be tested in the next two years. It's because BHP's petroleum business looks well suited to a spinoff, and the more BHP resists, the more attractive its oil wells become. While Elliott showed that BHP has invested $8 billion in petroleum exploration since 2002, and with little to nearly no return, one unfortunate reality may simply be that BHP can not cost-effectively break all of the assets out with the current energy market prices.

Elliott instead said BHP's management should work harder to find a solution to the legacy structure.

BHP Billiton plc (LON:BLT) traded up 0.71% on Tuesday, reaching GBX 1199.00.

A number of equities analysts have recently commented on BBL shares.