World's largest money manager losing confidence in BHP Billiton

Reuters quotes newspaper reports in Hong Kong saying BlackRock's World Mining Fund which has some $40 billion in holdings has reduced its position in BHP Billiton.

The fund has reduced its weighting in the world's number one miner to 6.5% according to the report. It was in the double digits before.

"Some of their decisions are very good in terms of long-term strategy, but are you going to make money from it in the next three years, which is our investment horizon?," the newspaper quoted her [Catherine Raw, the co-fund manager ] as saying in Hong Kong.

"They need to clearly indicate to the market what their strategy around Olympic Dam is, around shale gas, all of these things, to return confidence that they're not spending huge amounts of capex for very low returns, which is one of the perceptions in the market and one of the reasons why we just don't need to have such a large position."

The Olympic Dam referred to is an uranium, copper, silver and gold project in Australia. BHP Billiton has already received approval for a mammoth $30 billion expansion of the existing mine.

The planned open pit mine adjacent to the current Olympic Dam underground operation would be the world's biggest.

An idea of the olympian effort required to construct the mine and the size of the undertaking is clear from the fact that trucks will haul overburden 24/7 for five to six years just to reach the ore body.

The combined operations would mine 72 Mt ore per year and would produce 750,000 tonnes refined copper, 19,000 tonnes uranium oxide, 800,000 gold ounces and 2.9 Moz of silver per year.

Other analysts have also voiced concerns about the prospects of BHP making a success of last year's $12 billion Petrohawk deal – its most ambitious foray into the controversial business of shale gas extraction to date.

They cite the company's poor track record with acquisitions (the ultimately unsuccessful $40 billion bid for Canada's PotashCorp and the the botched attempt to tie-up with Rio Tinto on iron ore), its relatively limited experience in the fracking business, environmental concerns and warnings that it is again buying at the top of the cycle.

Not everyone is skeptical of BHP management and CEO Marius Kloppers' ability to pull off big projects and successfully steer the $180 billion company.

Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal's sister site Barron's included Kloppers in their list of the world's 30 best chief executives.

Kloppers, who took up the helm of BHP Billiton in 2007, is joined on the list by such illustrious leaders as Warren Buffet and Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, FedEx's Fred Smith, JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, Oracle's Larry Ellison and Anheuser-Busch Inbev's Carlos Brito among others.

Kloppers is the only mining CEO on the list and together with Rex Tillerson of ExxonMobil are the only two representatives from the extractive industries.

While BHP's share price has now fallen back to the level it was when Kloppers became CEO, 5-year profit growth at BHP is a healthy 20%.