(Refiles to insert dropped letter in BHP in headline)
PERTH, Australia, March 9 (Reuters) - BHP Billiton Ltd , the world’s largest miner, is concentrating on about 10 assets as it looks for opportunities to divest to cut debt and simplify the business, the company said on Saturday.
“Consistent with our commitment to simplify the portfolio, we continue to selectively pursue asset divestment opportunities, with a firm focus on value,” spokeswoman Eleanor Nichols said.
The statement came in response to a report in the Australian newspaper that cited BHP Chief Financial Officer Graham Kerr as telling analysts in a closed-door briefing this week that the company was focussing on the potential to sell at least 10 of the company’s assets.
Kerr did not identify the assets but told those at the briefing that oil and gas assets were the easiest to sell, the Australian reported.
“It’s approximately 10 assets,” Nichols told Reuters. “Any decision to divest an asset will be announced to the market.”
Last month, BHP told workers at the Gregory-Crinum coking coal mine in central Queensland that it was considering the potential sale of the mine, which is part of the BHP-Mitsubishi Australia joint venture.
Miners are now focussed on squeezing the most out of their best assets after coming under pressure from investors for splashing out on expensive projects and acquisitions and allowing costs to spiral out of control in the boom years.
Last month, BHP reported a 43 percent slump in first-half profit to $5.68 billion - its worst profit drop in more than a decade - and took $3 billion in writedowns on its aluminium and nickel assets.
BHP last year shelved $40 billion in projects and shut some loss-making coal mines, as the whole industry battled with soaring costs, a strong Australian dollar and sliding commodity prices. (Reporting by Morag MacKinnon; Editing by Robert Birsel)