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BHP to Announce Decision on Western Australian Nickel Operations by August

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BHP continues to review its plans for the assets while focusing on preserving cash.

BHP is expected to provide an update on the future of its Western Australian nickel operations by August as it continues to review its plans for the assets while focusing on preserving cash.

“In Western Australia, we expect to announce a decision on the future of our nickel business in the coming months, where efforts to optimise operations and preserve value are underway,” BHP CEO Mike Henry said.

It comes after the company placed the assets under review in February amid a sharp fall in nickel prices due to an influx in lower-cost supply from Indonesia.

This influences prospects for nickel production not just in Australia, but also worldwide since about half of global production is estimated to be profit-losing.

The review includes optimising operations and maintenance schedules, evaluating capital plans, and lessening contractor spending and equipment hire.

During the fiscal third quarter, BHP’s Western Australian nickel production fell 4 percent year over year to 18.8 kilotonnes (kt). Fiscal year-to-date production rose 1 percent to 58.6 kt.

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BHP forecasts Western Australian nickel output to be in the lower range of 77 kt to 87 kt for the full fiscal year.

The review continues to evaluate options such as evaluating the development of the West Musgrave project, reducing discretionary expenditures, and imposing a period of care and maintenance at Nickel West to alleviate the impacts of plummeting nickel prices—which could potentially affect 3,300 jobs.

Meanwhile, Mr. Henry said that BHP is on track to meet production expectations for copper, iron ore, and energy coal.

The company saw copper output rose 15 percent to 465.9 kt during the quarter and jumped 10 percent to 1,360.3 kt year to date, driven by its strong operational performance at Copper South Australia, the Spence site in Chile, and Escondido.

BHP continues to conduct exploration drills across Copper South Australia to enhance its resource knowledge in support of its growth studies.

BHP maintained its forecasted full-year copper production at 1,720 kt to 1,910 kt.

Iron and Coal Forecasts

On the other hand, iron ore production rose 3 percent to 61.5 Mt (metric tonne) but decreased by 1 percent to 190.5 Mt. Its full-year production forecasts remain unchanged at 254 Mt to 264.5 Mt.

“Western Australia iron ore, the lowest cost iron ore producer globally, delivered another consistent period of production despite heavy rainfall. We continue to invest in improvements to our rail and port operations, which are essential for growth in the medium term to 305 Mt per annum and beyond,” Mr. Henry said.

Meanwhile, the company lowered its annual metallurgical coal forecast to between 21.5 Mt and 22.5 Mt after output declined 13 percent to 6.0 Mt during the quarter and fell 16 percent to 17.4 Mt YTD.

The company forecasts annual energy coal output to be at the upper end of 13Mt to 15Mt, as third-quarter production increased 5 percent to 4.1 Mt and YTD production soared 23 percent to 11.6 Mt.

“At our BMA metallurgical coal operations in Queensland, significant wet weather including the impact of two tropical cyclones and operational challenges impacted production and unit costs, and we have revised guidance for the year. We successfully completed the sale of the Blackwater and Daunia mines on April 2 for a total of up to US$4.1 billion,” Mr. Henry said.

Mr. Henry added that the stage one for BHP’s Jansen potash project in Canada is now 44 percent complete and remains ahead of its original schedule.

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