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Why Mackenzie will survive record BHP loss

AAP logoAAP 16/08/2016 Prashant Mehra

When a top global company posts its worst ever results, you would expect its chief executive to be come under considerable pressure. Not so for BHP Billiton's Andrew Mackenzie.

On Tuesday, the resources giant unveiled a massive $US6.39 billion annual loss, as a prolonged commodities slump forced it to take heavy writedowns in key businesses.

In the three years that Mr Mackenzie has been at the helm, BHP Billiton has slid from a $US10.9 billion profit in 2012/13 to its biggest ever loss in in 2015/16.

On top of that the company's credit rating has been cut and it was forced to abandon its policy of lifting dividends every year in an effort to preserve cash.

Still, the market has not seemed overly concerned.

BHP shares are up more than 40 per cent in 2016, while investors and analysts alike have affirmed their faith in the Scotland-born geologist's handling of the mining behemoth.

"The chief executive cannot have significant control over prices, he can't be crucified for these results," says David Lennox, resources analyst at Fat Prophets.

"BHP has some influence on what happens in the iron ore market, but they have no control over it."

The company said it lost $US10.7 billion this year on account of weaker commodity prices.

When Mr Mackenzie took over from Marius Kloppers in May 2013, BHP Billiton was somewhat overexposed to growth from the resources boom.

Mr Mackenzie - who previously served in senior positions at energy giant BP and Rio Tinto - set about shrinking BHP's business to manageable levels.

The worse-than-expected slump in prices of iron ore and oil that followed left the world's largest miner reeling but also simplified the path for its rebuilding.

BHP spun off a suite of its non-core assets into a separate company - South32 and listed it in 2014. It has also turned its focus on preserving financial strength to ride out the downturn, while cutting costs.

In June the mining giant said it will stay away from large scale exploration in key mineral segments such as iron ore, coal and potash.

It will instead shift focus to conventional oil and copper, allocating nearly all of its reduced exploration budget to commodities where its sees maximum long term growth potential.

"Investors may not be happy with the lower returns, but the company is now on a much more realistic footing," Mr Lennox said.

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