BHP Billiton names base metals chief as new CEO

MELBOURNE Tue Feb 19, 2013 4:48pm EST

MELBOURNE Feb 20 (Reuters) - Top global miner BHP Billiton appointed the head of its base metals business as its new chief executive on Wednesday to replace Marius Kloppers, who will step down in May.

The announcement came as BHP reported a 43 percent drop in half-year profit, its worst half-year slide in more than a decade, as expected, pummelled by weaker metals prices.

It also booked $3 billion in writedowns on its Worsley alumina and Nickel West assets, matching analysts forecasts, as aluminium prices have slumped due to a sharp increase in Chinese supply that global producers failed to anticipate.

Andrew Mackenzie, 56, who joined BHP from rival Rio Tinto in 2008, will be taking over as the company battles to protect margins by reining in costs in a weaker commodity pricing environment.

"The board has decided that Andrew is the right person to lead BHP Billiton in a changing global environment," the company said in a statement.

BHP last year shelved $40 billion in projects and shut some loss-making coal mines, as the industry battled with soaring costs, a strong Aussie dollar and sliding commodity prices.

In further moves to protect its margins, it said on Wednesday it had cut $944 million in costs over the past half year.

Profit before one-off items slid to $5.68 billion for July-December 2012 from $10 billion a year earlier. The result was in line with analysts' average forecast for a profit of $5.69 billion.

Net profit fell to $4.2 billion with the aluminium and nickel writedowns offset by gains from the sales of its Richards Bay minerals stake, its Browse gas stake, its diamonds business, and Yeelirie uranium deposit.

BHP raised its interim dividend by 3.6 percent to 57 cents, also in line with analysts' forecasts.

Rival Rio Tinto last week reported its first ever full-year loss after taking $14.4 billion in writedowns on its aluminium business and Mozambican coal assets, but appeased investors with a surprise 15 percent rise in its annual dividend.