BHP Billiton Plans to Sell 10 Assets After Debt Rises to Record

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, is planning to sell about 10 of its assets amid a rise in debt levels after a two-year metals boom driven by Chinese demand stuttered.

The Gregory-Crinum coal mine in Australia’s Queensland state is among the assets being considered for sale, spokeswoman Eleanor Nichols said by phone today. The Australian newspaper first reported that Chief Financial Officer Graham Kerr told equity analysts last week the divestment program was focused on at least 10 BHP assets. The company owns mines, oil and gas wells, and processing plants.

Global mining companies are selling off businesses after slumping metal prices triggered more than $60 billion of writedowns to mineral resources. BHP’s debt has risen to a record $30.4 billion and Chief Executive Officer Marius Kloppers last month joined his counterparts at Rio Tinto Group and Anglo American Plc in stepping down from his role.

“Consistent with our commitment to simplify the portfolio, we continue to selectively pursue asset divestment opportunities, with a firm focus on value,” Nichols said in an e-mailed statement. “Any decision to divest an asset will be announced to the market.”‬

Copper unit head Andrew Mackenzie will take over from Kloppers in May. Kloppers gave up his fiscal 2012 bonus after booking a $2.84 billion charge last August to write down the value of shale gas assets in the U.S.

Net Debt

BHP has gone from holding $200 million in net cash at the end of 2010 to net debt of $30.4 billion on Dec. 30, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Minerals demand growth will slow to 2 percent to 4 percent a year over the next five years, from 15 percent to 20 percent a year formerly, Kloppers said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview last month.

BHP has already agreed to sell its 80 percent stake in Canada’s Ekati diamond mine to Harry Winston Diamond Corp. for about $500 million, and is raising $1.63 billion from selling its stakes in the Browse petroleum joint venture to Petrochina Co.

The price of iron ore, BHP’s most profitable business, averaged 27 percent lower during the six months to Dec. 31, data from The Steel Index shows. Iron ore may tumble to $110 a metric ton by the end of the year, as mines in China boost production, cutting import demand in the world’s largest buyer, Westpac Banking Corp. said last month.

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