BHP’s Mackenzie vows ‘substantial’ cash returns to shareholders by June

BHP Billiton (ASX, NYSE:BHP), the world’s largest mining company, could launch a multi-billion-dollar return of cash to shareholders in less than three months, as it’s boosting production from existing mines to feed Chinese demand.

Interviewed by The Sunday Times of London, chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said talks about substantial shareholder rewards were "now becoming a practical one rather than a theoretical one".

As it continues to sell off assets, BHP’s boss reaffirmed he is targeting $5.5bn in cost cuts by the end of this year, while reducing net debt to $25bn. These measures are expected to open the way to an investor windfall at the June results.

"When we get to that number ($25bn), we will have a serious and practical conversation on how we might increase cash returns to shareholders," Mackenzie was quoted as saying.

The Anglo-Australian mining giant launched its last $10bn buyback program in 2011.

In the last decade, BHP has paid out $62bn in buy-backs and dividends to shareholders, or about half the company’s underlying earnings.