BHP's performance on the ground fails to lift shares off 3-year lows

On Wednesday BHP Billiton (ASX,LON,NYSE:BHP) stock sunk to its lowest level since March 2009 despite logging a remarkable production performance over the past twelve months.

BHP closed at $31.70 slightly down on the day in Sydney bringing its stock market losses since last year to over 25%. The stock hit a high of $50 in May 2008 and came close again in April 2011 when it was the 5th most valuable public corporation in the world.

At its current market capitalization of $170 billion, the company is valued at some $80 billion less than at its peak however. BHP is traded on 13 other exchanges in 6 countries.

Amid difficult market conditions the world's number one mining firm managed to notch up annual production records for ten operations, including petroleum, alumina, iron ore, and energy coal over the year to end-June. Base metals were also healthy with copper production up 11%.

The performance of iron ore – by far the Melbourne-based company's most profitable division – was especially strong, with BHP well on its way to reporting a 12th consecutive record for annual iron ore production following total output in the past fiscal year of 179 million tonnes.

BHP also boosted petroleum production for the 2012 fiscal year by 40% after its purchase of US shale oil player Petrohawk last year, but BHP is now coming under pressure to take a hit on these investments as others in the industry including BP and Encana have done.

Analysts expect writedowns in BHP's upcoming financials to the tune of $5 billion for the oil plays or $7 billion if combined with a fall in the value of the company's nickel and aluminum businesses.

The company which has more than 40,000 employees and operates in dozens of countries are also scaling back or postponing its expensive expansion projects – Outer Harbour at Port Hedland, Olympic Dam, Escondida and Jansen.

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