BHP rebuffs Elliott as first-half profit hits three-year high

BHP Billiton Ltd. rejected a new activist call for a corporate overhaul and joined rivals in boosting investor returns as first-half profit rose to a three-year high.

The world’s biggest miner raised interim dividend payments 38 percent to beat estimates as underlying earnings rose by 25 percent to $4.1 billion, according to a Tuesday statement.

Higher commodity prices lifted the results, Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mackenzie said in the statement. “We used this cash to further reduce net debt and increase returns to shareholders through higher dividends,” he said.

China’s growth is expected to slow modestly through 2018, as strength in infrastructure is offset by weaker expansion in housing and automobile markets, BHP said.

The company rejected a renewed demand from activist investor Elliott Management Corp. to review potential benefits of reorganizing as a single company in Australia. The New-York based fund argues an overhaul could add more than $22 billion in value for shareholders and wants BHP to conduct an independent study.

“We consider that the costs and risks of collapsing the DLC outweigh the potential benefits,” BHP said.

The producer said initial bids are expected in the June quarter as it advances the sale of U.S. shale assets worth about $10 billion.

BHP follows its largest competitor Rio Tinto Group, which boosted annual dividend payments by about 70 percent, and producers including South32 Ltd. in meeting investors’ demands for higher returns. The company has potential to hand back about $4 billion in cash over the next 12 months, according to Macquarie Group Ltd. analysts.

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