Michael Pascoe, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, hits on a little-reported theme gleaned from remarks by BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser this week in Sydney:
Amidst the petty local political noise, the really big message in the speeches by BHP's chairman and CEO this week was entirely missed: implicit in the iron ore demand projections is that India isn't going to do a China, that India won't spectacularly industrialise in the East Asian manner.
Pascoe recalls the widely-held theory that India's industrialization, powered by a rapidly expanding population, will eventually catch up with China's, fuelling at least another decade-long commodities boom, which is of critical importance to Australia with its rich deposits of metallurgical coal and iron ore used for steelmaking.
Nasser blew a hole in that theory, reports Pascoe:
The message from BHP this week is that demand for iron ore flattens out as China's growth trajectory moves into the greater consumption phase from a concentration on construction and infrastructure. Ipso facto, India doesn't take off.
Alarmingly, BHP's Nasser all but declared the good times over, referring to the supercycle commodities boom driven principally by iron ore, the Australian megaminer's most profitable business by far. FT.com (sub required) reported:
“The tailwind of high commodity prices has contributed to record growth in the sector. Now we have a period where those tailwinds are moderating and we expect further easing over time,” said Mr Nasser.
“Where the industry previously lacked investment opportunities and choice, it now has more projects than cash flows. All of us in the industry are having to make choices.”
By "making choices," Nasser confirmed earlier comments from BHP's top execs about scaling back its most ambitious programs saying it will not spend the $80 billion previously set aside for expansion by 2015.
While most analysts expect BHP will continue to pour money into iron ore in Australia, the company's other megaprojects – Olympic Dam, expansion of its US shale gas operations and Jansen potash project in Canada – may be put on the back burner.