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BHP cautious but optimistic about long-term outlook

BHP boss Andrew Mackenzie indicated this week the company had so far managed to avoid any significant impact from escalating trade tensions and, while it remained cautious, it was also positive about the outlook for metals demand.
BHP cautious but optimistic about long-term outlook BHP cautious but optimistic about long-term outlook BHP cautious but optimistic about long-term outlook BHP cautious but optimistic about long-term outlook BHP cautious but optimistic about long-term outlook

BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie speaking at the 2018 AGM in London

He was speaking at the mining giant's annual general meeting in London.

"The nature of our industry means we must make bold predictions about the future. If there is one prediction that I can confidently make, it is that demand for commodities will be sustained even as the world shifts to a lower carbon future," Mackenzie told investors.

He said with populations growing and more people expecting a better quality of life through improved infrastructure, decarbonisation and electrification, demand for energy, metals and fertilisers should be robust for decades to come.

"Renewables, electrification and a low-carbon future offer great opportunities for BHP. They will generate demand for higher volume, as well as higher quality, iron ore, metallurgical coal and copper concentrates - the products our portfolio is built around," Mackenzie said.

"You can count on BHP to lead and capitalise quickly on this shift."

He said the miner was in a good place to move forward into the 2019 financial year, with free cash flow maximised to US$12.5 billion in the year, capital discipline maintained, net debt reduced by more than $5 billion and the portfolio simplified to meet demand for resources required now and in the future.

Despite his positivity, Mackenzie did allow that all global businesses were having to navigate through volatility and monitor events impacting global economic growth and commodities demand.

He said it was well known that protectionism had negative flow-on effects for business, as it undercut confidence, disrupted investment, and destroyed productivity, which in turn hit wealth creation and poverty eradication.

"Hence, I expect that the current assault on the global trading system will jolt countries outside of this dispute into action. This is not a time for complacency. When the fabric of global trade frays, we must pull together and administer needle and thread," Mackenzie said.

He said BHP would continue to stay true to its plans.

"There is more to do to realise the full potential of our assets, and how we manage them for shareholders, through technological advances, culture and organic growth."

The CEO noted that BHP had made progress in its aim to achieve gender balance by 2025.

He said in the two years since the goal was announced, BHP had achieved a 5% increase in female participation, which equalled 2,000 more female employees.

"Not long ago, few could imagine a future where the prevalence of women in the mining industry was normal, and even routine. The industry's poor track record is something we are determined to change and lead," Mackenzie said.

The miner also has four initiatives to make the industry more attractive to women, including boosting levels of flexible work and tackling gender pay bias by making more than 1,000 pay adjustments worth $4 million.

It has also lifted the hiring ratio of women to almost 40% from 10% three years ago, and advocates with its numerous equipment and labour suppliers for more inclusion and diversity in the broader industry.