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BHP Group achieve solid operational performances across the portfolio

BHP Group (LON:BHP) has today announced its operational review for the half year ended 31st December 2019.

  • All production and unit cost guidance(1) (based on exchange rates of AUD/USD 0.70 and USD/CLP 683) remains unchanged for the 2020 financial year. Escondida unit costs tracking below full year guidance at the December 2019 half year largely as a result of higher by-product credits.
  • Group copper equivalent production was broadly unchanged in the December 2019 half year, with volumes for the full year expected to be slightly higher than last year.
  •  All major projects under development are tracking to plan. In Petroleum, BHP and Woodside signed a non-binding Heads of Agreement to progress the Scarborough gas development.
  •  In Copper exploration, the third phase of the drilling program at Oak Dam in South Australia is in progress and is expected to be completed in the June 2020 quarter.
  • The financial results for the December 2019 half year are expected to reflect certain items as summarised in the table on page two.
ProductionDec H19(vs Dec H18)Dec Q19(vs Sep Q19)Dec Q19 vs Sep Q19 commentary
Petroleum (MMboe)57(9%)28(4%)Lower gas sales at Bass Strait and Trinidad and Tobago, partially offset by higher volumes from the Gulf of Mexico following Tropical Storm Barry impacts in the prior quarter.
Copper (kt)8857%4556%Strong concentrator throughput at Escondida more than offset the impact from social unrest in Chile. Higher production at Olympic Dam following planned preparatory work in the prior quarter related to the refinery crane replacement.
Iron ore (Mt)1212%60(1%)Lower volumes at Western Australia Iron Ore (WAIO) due to completion of a major car dumper maintenance program in October 2019.
Metallurgical coal (Mt)20(2%)1117%Higher volumes following completion of significant planned wash plant maintenance activities in the prior quarter.
Energy coal (Mt)12(12%)68%Higher volumes at New South Wales Energy Coal (NSWEC) as a result of a higher average strip ratio in the prior quarter, and higher volumes at Cerrejon due to adverse weather in the prior quarter.
Nickel (kt)35(11%)14(37%)Volumes reflected the impact of major quadrennial maintenance activities at the Kwinana refinery and Kalgoorlie smelter.

Mike Henry assumed the role of BHP Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director on 1 January 2020.

BHP Chief Executive Officer, Mike Henry, said: “We delivered solid operational performances across the portfolio in the first half of the 2020 financial year, offsetting the expected impacts of planned maintenance and natural field decline. Production and cost guidance is unchanged, and we remain on track to deliver slightly higher production than last year. Our six major development projects are progressing well, and we continue to advance our exploration programs in petroleum and copper.”                         

Summary

Operational performance

Production and guidance are summarised below.

ProductionDec
H19
Dec
Q19
Dec H19
vs
Dec H18
Dec Q19
vs
Dec Q18
Dec Q19
vs
Sep Q19

FY20
guidance

 
Petroleum (MMboe)5728(9%)(6%)(4%)110 – 116Lower end of range
Copper (kt)8854557%9%6%1,705 – 1,820 
   Escondida (kt)6023094%9%5%1,160 – 1,230Unchanged
   Other copper(i) (kt)28314715%11%7%545 – 590Unchanged
Iron ore (Mt)121602%4%(1%)242 – 253 
   WAIO (100% basis) (Mt)137682%4%(2%)273 – 286Unchanged
Metallurgical coal (Mt)2011(2%)6%17%41 – 45 
   Queensland Coal (100% basis) (Mt)36200%9%21%73 – 79Unchanged
Energy coal (Mt)126(12%)(9%)8%24 – 26 
   NSWEC (Mt)74(11%)(13%)5%15 – 17Unchanged
   Cerrejón (Mt)42(13%)(2%)13%~9Unchanged
Nickel (kt)3514(11%)(24%)(37%)~87Unchanged

(i)     Other copper comprises Pampa Norte, Olympic Dam and Antamina.

Summary of disclosures

BHP expects its December 2019 half year financial results to reflect certain items as summarised in the table below. The table does not provide a comprehensive list of all items impacting the period. The financial statements are the subject of ongoing work that will not be finalised until the release of the financial results on 18 February 2020. Accordingly the information is subject to update.

DescriptionH1 FY20
impact
US$M(i)
Classification(ii)
Unit costs for Petroleum, WAIO, Queensland Coal and NSWEC expected to be in line with full year guidanceRefer footnote(iii) Operating costs
Unit costs for Escondida tracking below full year guidance in H1 FY20 primarily due to higher by-product creditsRefer footnote(iii)↓ Operating costs
Exploration expense (including petroleum and minerals exploration programs)231↑ Exploration expense
The Group’s adjusted effective tax rate for H1 FY20 is expected to be at the lower end of the guidance range of 33 to 38 per centRefer footnote(iii)↓ Taxation expense
Application of IFRS 16 Leases, new leases, lease payments, remeasurement of vessel lease contracts(iv) and inclusion of derivatives in net debt2,100 – 2,500↑ Net debt
The Group’s net debt target range is US$12 to US$17 billion, with net debt expected to remain towards the lower end of the range in the near termNet debt
Dividends received from equity accounted investments~110↑ Operating cash inflow
Dividends paid to non-controlling interests~610 ↑ Financing cash outflow
Provision related to cancellation of power contracts (after taxation) as part of shift towards 100 per cent renewable energy at Escondida and Spence (no cash outflow in H1 FY20)~500(V)↑ Exceptional item charge
Financial impact on BHP Brasil of the Samarco dam failureRefer footnote(iii)↑ Exceptional item charge

(i)     Numbers are not tax effected, unless otherwise noted.

(ii)    There will be a corresponding balance sheet, cash flow and/or income statement impact as relevant.

(iii)   Financial impact is the subject of ongoing work and is not yet finalised.

(iv)   Vessel lease contracts must be remeasured at each reporting date and are priced with reference to a freight index.

(v)    Provision related to cancellation of power contracts of approximately US$780 million before taxation.

Major development projects

At the end of December 2019, BHP had six major projects under development in petroleum, copper, iron ore and potash, with a combined budget of US$11.4 billion over the life of the projects. All major projects under development are tracking to plan.

Average realised prices

The average realised prices achieved for our major commodities are summarised below.

Average realised prices(i)Dec H19Dec H18Jun H19FY19Dec H19
vs
Dec H18
Dec H19
vs
Jun H19
Dec H19
vs
FY19
Oil (crude and condensate) (US$/bbl)60.6469.9163.2966.59(13%)(4%)(9%)
Natural gas (US$/Mscf)(ii)4.264.674.424.55(9%)(4%)(6%)
LNG (US$/Mscf)7.6210.198.539.43(25%)(11%)(19%)
Copper (US$/lb)2.602.542.702.622%(4%)(1%)
Iron ore (US$/wmt, FOB)78.3055.6277.7466.6841%1%17%
Metallurgical coal (US$/t)140.94179.82179.53179.67(22%)(21%)(22%)
   Hard coking coal (US$/t)(iii)154.01197.86201.33199.61(22%)(24%)(23%)
   Weak coking coal (US$/t)(iii)101.06134.12126.46130.18(25%)(20%)(22%)
Thermal coal (US$/t)(iv)58.5584.1572.1877.90(30%)(19%)(25%)
Nickel metal (US$/t)15,71512,48012,44412,46226%26%26%

(i)     Based on provisional, unaudited estimates. Prices exclude sales from equity accounted investments, third party product and internal sales, and represent the weighted average of various sales terms (for example: FOB, CIF and CFR), unless otherwise noted. Includes the impact of provisional pricing and finalisation adjustments.

(ii)    Includes internal sales.

(iii)   Hard coking coal (HCC) refers generally to those metallurgical coals with a Coke Strength after Reaction (CSR) of 35 and above, which includes coals across the spectrum from Premium Coking to Semi Hard Coking coals, while weak coking coal (WCC) refers generally to those metallurgical coals with a CSR below 35.

(iv)   Export sales only; excludes Cerrejón. Includes thermal coal sales from metallurgical coal mines.

The large majority of iron ore shipments were linked to the index price for the month of shipment, with price differentials predominantly a reflection of market fundamentals and product quality. The large majority of metallurgical coal and energy coal exports were linked to the index price for the month of shipment or sold on the spot market at fixed or index-linked prices, with price differentials reflecting product quality.

At 31 December 2019, the Group had 345 kt of outstanding copper sales that were revalued at a weighted average price of US$2.80 per pound. The final price of these sales will be determined over the remainder of the 2020 financial year. In addition, 322 kt of copper sales from the 2019 financial year were subject to a finalisation adjustment in the current period. The provisional pricing and finalisation adjustments will increase Underlying EBITDA(2) by US$16 million in the 2020 financial year and is included in the average realised copper price in the above table.

Corporate update

In November 2019, BHP approved US$44 million for BHP Brasil’s share of the funding for work related to the restart of one concentrator at Samarco. The funding will enable the construction of a filtration plant and the commencement of operation readiness activities. This follows the approval of the Corrective Operating Licence (LOC) for Samarco’s operating activities at its Germano Complex in October 2019. Restart can occur when the filtration system is complete and Samarco has met all necessary safety requirements, and will be subject to final approval by Samarco’s shareholders.

In December 2019, BHP agreed to fund a total of US$793 million in further financial support for the Renova Foundation and Samarco. This comprises US$581 million to fund the Renova Foundation until 31 December 2020 which will be offset against the Group’s provision for the Samarco dam failure, and a short-term facility of up to US$212 million(3) to be made available to Samarco until 31 December 2020.

As at the date of this Operational Review, for the purpose of the December 2019 half year financial results, we are not in a position to provide an update on the ongoing potential financial impacts on BHP Brasil of the Samarco dam failure. Any financial impacts will continue to be treated as an exceptional item.

Petroleum

Production

 DecH19DecQ19Dec H19
vs
Dec H18
Dec Q19
vs
Dec Q18
Dec Q19
vs
Sep Q19
Crude oil, condensate and natural gas liquids (MMboe)2613(9%)(7%)7%
Natural gas (bcf)18989(8%)(6%)(12%)
Total petroleum production (MMboe)5728(9%)(6%)(4%)

Petroleum – Total petroleum production decreased by nine per cent to 57 MMboe. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 110 and 116 MMboe, with volumes expected to be towards the lower end of the guidance range.

Crude oil, condensate and natural gas liquids production declined by nine per cent to 26 MMboe due to the impact of Tropical Storm Barry in the Gulf of Mexico and natural field decline across the portfolio. This decline was partially offset by higher uptime at Pyrenees following the 70 day dry dock maintenance program during the September 2018 quarter.

Natural gas production decreased by eight per cent to 189 bcf, reflecting a decrease in tax barrels at Trinidad and Tobago in accordance with the terms of our Production Sharing Contract, maintenance at North West Shelf, reduced domestic gas sales in Western Australia, and natural field decline across the portfolio.

Projects

Project and
ownership
Capital expenditure US$MInitial production target dateCapacityProgress
Atlantis Phase 3
(US Gulf of Mexico)
44% (non-operator)
696CY20New subsea production system that will tie back to the existing Atlantis facility, with capacity to produce up to 38,000 gross barrels of oil equivalent per day.On schedule and budget.
The overall project is 36% complete.
Ruby
(Trinidad & Tobago) 68.46% (operator)
283CY21Five production wells tied back into existing operated processing facilities, with capacity to produce up to 16,000 gross barrels of oil per day and 80 million gross standard cubic feet of natural gas per day.On schedule and budget. 
The overall project is 13% complete.
Mad Dog Phase 2
(US Gulf of Mexico)
23.9% (non-operator)
2,154CY22New floating production facility with the capacity to produce up to 140,000 gross barrels of crude oil per day.On schedule and budget.
The overall project is 65% complete.

The Bass Strait West Barracouta project is tracking to plan and is expected to achieve first production in the 2021 calendar year.

On 18 November 2019, BHP and Woodside signed a non-binding Heads of Agreement to progress the Scarborough gas development which, amongst other terms, includes agreement on a competitive tariff for gas processing through the Pluto LNG facility and BHP’s election not to exercise its option for an additional 10 per cent of the WA-1-R lease. BHP and Woodside are targeting finalisation of the required conditional binding agreements by the end of March 2020. A final investment decision by BHP is expected from the middle of the 2020 calendar year.

Petroleum exploration

Exploration and appraisal wells drilled during the December 2019 quarter are summarised below.

WellLocationTargetFormation ageBHP equitySpud dateWater depthTotal well depthStatus
Carnival-1Trinidad & Tobago Block 14GasLate Miocene70% (BHP Operator)30 September 20192,119 m4,347 mDry hole;
Plugged and abandoned

In Trinidad and Tobago, we completed the exploration program on our Northern licences as part of Phase 4 of our deepwater drilling campaign. The Carnival-1 well was spud on 30 September 2019 and was a dry hole. The well was plugged and abandoned on 13 October 2019. Development planning studies of the discoveries in the North are ongoing. Following Carnival-1, the Deepwater Invictus rig returned to the US Gulf of Mexico where it is currently completing regulatory abandonment work on Shenzi appraisal and exploration boreholes.

During the December 2019 quarter, we extended our contract for the Deepwater Invictus rig for an additional year through to May 2021 to support our ongoing exploration activities.

As reported in the September 2019 Operational Review, we were the apparent highest bidder on blocks GC124 and GC168 in Green Canyon in the central Gulf of Mexico and on 18 additional blocks(4) in the western Gulf of Mexico. All leases were awarded by the Regulator in the December 2019 quarter.

Petroleum exploration expenditure for the December 2019 half year was US$306 million, of which US$164 million was expensed. A US$0.7 billion exploration and appraisal program is being executed for the 2020 financial year.

Copper

Production

 DecH19DecQ19Dec H19
vs
Dec H18
Dec Q19
vs
Dec Q18
Dec Q19
vs
Sep Q19
Copper (kt)8854557%9%6%
Zinc (t)42,93722,483(22%)(7%)10%
Uranium (t)1,88694927%2%1%

Copper – Total copper production increased by seven per cent to 885 kt. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 1,705 and 1,820 kt.

Escondida copper production increased by four per cent to 602 kt, with record average concentrator throughput of 367 ktpd for the half year, driven by ongoing improvements in maintenance and operational performance under our Transformation program. This offset expected grade decline and a 5 kt concentrate production impact related to stoppages associated with the social unrest in Chile. Including cathodes, the total production impact of the stoppages is expected to be 7 kt for the 2020 financial year. The Escondida Water Supply Expansion project was completed in December 2019, on schedule and budget, further increasing total desalinated water capacity to 3,800 litres per second. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 1,160 and 1,230 kt, with further improvements in concentrator throughput expected to offset an approximately five per cent reduction in the copper grade of concentrator feed versus the prior year.

Pampa Norte copper production increased by 18 per cent to 124 kt, reflecting the impact of a fire at the electro-winning plant at Spence in the prior year. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 230 and 250 kt, including expected grade decline of approximately 10 per cent.

Olympic Dam copper production increased by 32 per cent to 86 kt as a result of the prior period acid plant outage, partially offset by the impact of planned preparatory work undertaken in the September 2019 quarter related to the replacement of the refinery crane. The physical replacement and commissioning of the refinery crane is scheduled for the March 2020 quarter. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 180 and 205 kt.

Antamina copper production decreased by two per cent to 74 kt and zinc production decreased by 22 per cent to 43 kt, reflecting lower copper and zinc head grades, in line with the mine plan. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at approximately 135 kt for copper and approximately 110 kt for zinc.

Projects

Project and
ownership
Capital expenditure US$MInitial production target dateCapacityProgress
Spence Growth Option
(Chile)
100%
 2,460H1 FY21New 95 ktpd concentrator is expected to increase Spence’s payable copper in concentrate production by approximately 185 ktpa in the first 10 years of operation and extend the mining operations by more than 50 years.On schedule and budget.
The overall project is 81% complete.

Iron Ore

Production

 DecH19DecQ19Dec H19
vs
Dec H18
Dec Q19
vs
Dec Q18
Dec Q19
vs
Sep Q19
Iron ore production (kt)121,40060,3952%4%(1%)

Iron ore – Total iron ore production increased by two per cent to 121 Mt (137 Mt on a 100 per cent basis). Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 242 and 253 Mt (273 and 286 Mt on a 100 per cent basis), with a stronger second half performance expected in line with our plans.

At WAIO, higher volumes reflected record production at Jimblebar and the impact of the train derailment in the December 2018 half year. This was partly offset by a major car dumper maintenance campaign (completed on 16 October 2019) to further improve port reliability and provide a stable base for our tightly coupled supply chain. Mine operations continued to deliver consistent performance.

Consistent with our revised mine plan, we expect Jimblebar fines Fe grade to improve in the second half of the 2020 financial year, with the typical specification returning to above 60 per cent in the June 2020 quarter.

Mining and processing operations at Samarco remain suspended following the failure of the Fundão tailings dam and Santarém water dam on 5 November 2015. Approval of the Corrective Operating Licence (LOC) for Samarco’s operating activities at its Germano Complex was received in October 2019 and operation readiness activities for restart have commenced. Restart can occur when the filtration system is complete and Samarco has met all necessary safety requirements, and will be subject to final approval by Samarco’s shareholders.

Projects

Project and
ownership
Capital expenditure US$MInitial production target dateCapacityProgress
South Flank
(Australia)
85%
3,061CY21Sustaining iron ore mine to replace production from the 80 Mtpa (100 per cent basis) Yandi mine.On schedule and budget.
The overall project is 58% complete.

Coal

Production

 DecH19 DecQ19 Dec H19
vs
Dec H18
Dec Q19
vs
Dec Q18
Dec Q19
vs
Sep Q19
Metallurgical coal (kt)20,28210,924(2%)6%17%
Energy coal (kt)11,7256,078(12%)(9%)8%

Metallurgical coal – Metallurgical coal production was down two per cent to 20 Mt (36 Mt on a 100 per cent basis). Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 41 and 45 Mt (73 and 79 Mt on a 100 per cent basis), with a stronger second half performance expected in line with our plans.

At Queensland Coal, strong underlying operational performance at Poitrel, Peak Downs, Caval Ridge and Broadmeadow was offset by planned major wash plant shutdowns at Goonyella, Peak Downs and Caval Ridge, low opening raw coal inventories at Blackwater, and truck and shovel underperformance at South Walker Creek.

Energy coal – Energy coal production decreased by 12 per cent to 12 Mt. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 24 and 26 Mt.

New South Wales Energy Coal production decreased by 11 per cent to 7 Mt as a result of the change in product strategy to focus on higher quality products. Smoke from regional bushfires and dust have reduced air quality at our operations, which has impacted December 2019 production. We are monitoring the situation and if air quality continues to deteriorate then operations could be constrained further in the second half of the year. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at between 15 and 17 Mt.

Cerrejón production decreased by 13 per cent to 4 Mt as a result of a focus on higher quality products, in line with the mine plan, and the impact of adverse weather in the September 2019 quarter. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged at approximately 9 Mt.

Other

Nickel production

 DecH19Dec
Q19
Dec H19
vs
Dec H18
Dec Q19
vs
Dec Q18
Dec Q19
vs
Sep Q19
Nickel (kt)35.313.7(11%)(24%)(37%)

Nickel – Nickel West production decreased by 11 per cent to 35 kt due to the major quadrennial maintenance shutdowns at the Kwinana refinery and the Kalgoorlie smelter, as well as planned routine maintenance at the concentrators, in the December 2019 quarter. Guidance for the 2020 financial year remains unchanged, with production expected to be broadly in line with the 2019 financial year.

Operations Services – In Australia, Operations Services has now been deployed at 13 locations across WAIO, Queensland Coal and NSWEC, with over 1,500 permanent jobs created. Deployments are successfully accelerating safety and productivity outcomes.

Potash project

Project and
ownership
Investment
US$M
ScopeProgress
Jansen Potash
(Canada)
100%
2,700Investment to finish the excavation and lining of the production and service shafts, and to continue the installation of essential surface infrastructure and utilities.The project is 85% complete and within the approved budget. Final shaft lining work is continuing.   

Minerals exploration

Minerals exploration expenditure for the December 2019 half year was US$84 million, of which US$67 million was expensed. Greenfield minerals exploration is predominantly focused on advancing copper targets within Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Canada, South Australia and the south-west United States.

Consistent with our focus on copper, in November 2019, BHP increased its interest in SolGold Plc, the majority owner and operator of the Cascabel porphyry copper-gold project in Ecuador, by 3.6 per cent to 14.7 per cent.

At Oak Dam in South Australia, the third phase of the drilling program commenced in November 2019 and is expected to be completed in the June 2020 quarter. This follows encouraging results from the previous drilling phases, which confirmed high-grade mineralised intercepts of copper, with associated gold, uranium and silver.

Variance analysis relates to the relative performance of BHP and/or its operations during the December 2019 half year compared with the December 2018 half year, unless otherwise noted. Production volumes, sales volumes and capital and exploration expenditure from subsidiaries are reported on a 100 per cent basis; production and sales volumes from equity accounted investments and other operations are reported on a proportionate consolidation basis. Numbers presented may not add up precisely to the totals provided due to rounding. Copper equivalent production based on 2019 financial year average realised prices.

The following footnotes apply to this Operational Review:

(1)       2020 financial year unit cost guidance: Petroleum US$10.50-11.50/boe, Escondida US$1.20-1.35/lb, WAIO US$13-14/t, Queensland Coal US$67-74/t and NSWEC US$55-61/t; based on exchange rates of AUD/USD 0.70 and USD/CLP 683.

(2)       Underlying EBIT and Underlying EBITDA are used to reflect the underlying performance of BHP. Underlying EBIT is earnings before net finance costs, taxation and any exceptional items. Underlying EBITDA is Underlying EBIT before depreciation, amortisation and impairment.

(3)       Short-term facility of up to US$212 million includes US$2 million related to the decommissioning of the Germano dam which will be offset against the Group’s provision.

(4)       We were the apparent high bidder on 18 additional blocks: GB630, GB574, GB575, GB619, GB676, GB677, EB655, EB656, EB701, GB762, GB805, GB806, GB851, GB852, GB895, GB672, GB716 and GB760.

The following abbreviations may have been used throughout this report: barrels (bbl); billion cubic feet (bcf); cost and freight (CFR); cost, insurance and freight (CIF); dry metric tonne unit (dmtu); free on board (FOB); grams per tonne (g/t); kilograms per tonne (kg/t); kilometre (km); metre (m); million barrels of oil equivalent (MMboe); million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d); million tonnes (Mt); million tonnes per annum (Mtpa); ounces (oz); pounds (lb); thousand barrels of oil equivalent (Mboe); thousand barrels of oil equivalent per day (Mboe/d); thousand ounces (koz); thousand standard cubic feet (Mscf); thousand tonnes (kt); thousand tonnes per annum (ktpa); thousand tonnes per day (ktpd); tonnes (t); and wet metric tonnes (wmt).

In this release, the terms ‘BHP’, ‘Group’, ‘BHP Group’, ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ and ourselves’ are used to refer to BHP Group Limited, BHP Group plc and, except where the context otherwise requires, their respective subsidiaries as defined in note 28 ‘Subsidiaries’ in section 5.1 of BHP’s 30 June 2019 Annual Report and Form 20-F, unless stated otherwise. Notwithstanding that this release may include production, financial and other information from non-operated assets, non-operated assets are not included in the BHP Group and, as a result, statements regarding our operations, assets and values apply only to our operated assets unless stated otherwise.

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