BHP takes largest-ever write-down on US shale operation

BHP takes largest-ever write-down on US shale operation

BHP's Fayetteville Shale, Arkansas, USA. (Image courtesy of BHP Billiton)

Mining giant BHP Billiton (ASX, NYSE:BHP), (LON:BLT) logged Friday its largest-ever write-down, a roughly US$7.2 billion pretax charge on its extensive US shale assets, as a persistent downturn in commodities continues to hurt the mining and energy sectors.

The fresh disappointment from the company’s $20 billion foray into the US shale gas industry comes as collapsing oil prices keep added extra pressure on BHP finances. The miner is already struggling with the consequences of a dam burst at a Brazilian mining venture and a collapse in prices for iron ore and copper, its main earners.

With this fresh impairment, the company has now written off almost $13 billion on the deals in which, in addition to the purchase costs, it has committed more than $15bn of capital investment.

BHP’s London-traded shares dropped 5.8% after write-down news, which fuelled theory that the mining giant will have to soon cut its dividend for the first time in more than 25 years. The company’s stock price has plunged by 40% over the past three months.

Other miners under-performed in London as well, with Anglo American (LON:AAL) becoming Friday’s biggest loser — down 9.5%. Glencore (LON:GLEN), Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) and Antofagasta (LON:ANTO) followed suit, dropping between about 4% and 6%.

BHP, which is the biggest overseas investor in the US oil and shale gas sector, said the write-down would be booked in its next half-yearly accounts, which are due in February. It added that investment plans for the US onshore business for the rest of the fiscal year through June were under review, with the focus on preserving cash flow.

According to the company, the value of its onshore US assets now stands at $16bn, after depreciation and amortization and including $4bn of deferred tax liabilities.