BHP Billiton Anticipates 'Decline Over Time' with Iron Ore Prices
The drop in iron ore prices is no surprise to mining giant BHP Billiton. The company’s president of marketing Mike Henry says the dramatic 31 percent fall in price this year wasn’t a shock and the company anticipates further declines in price for the key steel-making ingredient.
“The decline in iron ore prices wasn’t unexpected for us ... what we’re seeing today in the marketplace is within the range of expectations that we’ve had,” said Henry.
The price of iron ore has fluctuated continuously in the last 12 months. The final quarter of the financial year saw the commodity fall to a 21-month low at $89, with the bulk metal plunging by nearly a third this year.
"What we're seeing today in the marketplace is within the range of expectations that we've had," Henry said.
He added, “We’ve been saying for a long period of time now that growth rates in China will begin to slow, that you would see steel intensity slowing at an even greater rate than GDP declines, and at the same time you’d see a lot more low cost supply coming to market that would bring prices down.”
The only good news about sliding prices is analysts remain confident BHP, along with rival Rio Tinto, will still make healthy profits at the $90 level. BHP’s breakeven price for iron ore sits at $45 a ton.
And while Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton can accommodate declining earnings at $90 per ton, companies like Atlas Iron may face short-term pressure.
“Weaker earnings, together with high debt following the term loan B issuance in 2012, could significantly increase its leverage and pressure its credit metrics in the absence of remedial actions taken by the company,” said S&P analyst credit analyst May Zhong.
Last week BHP shipped its billionth ton of iron ore to Japan, marking a huge milestone for the company and for Port Hedland in Western Australia.
BHP, along with Vale and Rio Tinto, are chasing record iron ore volumes following heavy investment in bringing on new mines in recent years. Lower prices in iron ore are allowing the companies to capitalize as other companies continue to cut costs in an effort to improve their margins.
Mining Profile: Mike Henry, CEO, BHP
Mike Henry has over 30 years’ experience in the resources industry, working across the globe in Australia, Asia, North America, and Europe; he joined BHP in 2003. A member of the executive leadership team since 2011, Henry has held roles spanning operational, commercial, and technical.
Mike Henry graduated from the University of British Colombia with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. He began his career in the resources industry working for Japanese tech giant Mitsubishi. Henry’s first contact with BHP came in Australia in 1999 when he helped set up the company’s coal joint venture, the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA). By 2001, Henry had risen to Vice President of Business Development for the BMA before joining BHP’s energy coal business full time.
During his time at BHP prior roles have included President HSE, Marketing & Technology 2013-14 and President of the company’s coal business from 2015-16. Prior to succeeding Andrew McKenzie as CEO in January 2020, Henry served as President for Operations, Minerals Australia focusing on iron ore, copper, coal and nickel. Henry led 40,000 people across six assets, with revenues of $29bn, EBITDA of $16bn and a capital spend of $3bn
Under Henry’s leadership, BHP’s Minerals Australia business reduced the frequency of high potential injuries by 60% and, for the first time, became the world’s lowest-cost major iron ore producer.
Mike Henry’s exposure to the company’s global marketing efforts between 2010 and 2015 saw him earmarked for the top job at BHP, developing crucial relationships with the mining giant’s customers in China and Japan.
“His operational experience, his commercial experience, his strategic skill, his global experience … that makes him a great candidate to be the next CEO of BHP,” said outgoing CEO Andrew MacKenzie of Henry’s appointment to the role last year.
Inclusion & Diversity
Growing up in a biracial family with a mother of Japanese heritage who worked as a nurse in emergency services, Henry witnessed and experienced both ends of the inclusion spectrum.
“[Inclusion & Diversity] is quite personal for me.. I am absolutely convinced that having an inclusive culture and diverse workforce is mission critical for BHP,” he says. “Inclusive, diverse teams perform better – because they promote safety, productivity and wellbeing. Getting this right will be a serious competitive advantage for BHP. It will help us secure and motivate the best people, we’ll be more creative, and we’ll make better decisions.”
Henry spent the first half of his career in an environment where he was not from the mainstream, but where people went the extra mile to ensure he felt wholly included. “Without exception, it’s been in high-inclusion environments that I’ve thrived,” he recalls. “Where I’ve felt most fulfilled as a person. When I’ve been most committed and motivated, and where I’ve made my most significant contribution. On the rare occasion when I’ve been in an environment I experienced as less inclusive, I haven’t been at my best – a lost opportunity for both me and those around me. I have two adult daughters and my aspiration for them is that they are able to realise their dreams and potential, unconstrained by gender, or race. I need to demonstrate the values and leadership that reflect where I’ve come from and the world that I hope for and believe is possible.”
Having lead teams globally, across cultures and disciplines, Henry’s experience has been that the teams that have unlocked exceptional outcomes have been those that are highly inclusive. “There’s been an excitement and enthusiasm in those teams that sees people challenge themselves, reach higher, and be more creative,” he notes.
“Those teams are the ones that everyone wants to be part of, and the ones that truly innovate and push the organisation to new frontiers. Being part of those teams and leading them has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career. I am passionate about seeing people stretch themselves, learn that they’re capable of more than they perhaps thought and experience the joy of realising great outcomes.”
What does the future hold? "BHP is a company that is steeped in history,” said Henry on his appointment last year. “The one constant for the whole of BHP’s 153-year history had been great people. If you’ve got the right people you can do amazing things."