BHP job changes, CEO comments, fan talk of asset sales

Thu Dec 8, 2011 12:54am EST
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By James Regan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Management changes at BHP Billiton and comments by CEO Marius Kloppers have fanned speculation the world's biggest miner will try to sell less profitable assets to better exploit its crown jewels -- iron ore, coal, copper, gas and potash.

BHP's diamond division in Canada tops the list of operations likely to be put up for sale following the firm's announcement on November 30 it was reviewing its interests in the Ekati diamond mine and the Chidliak exploration projects in Canada.

BHP (BHP.AX: Quote) (BLT.L: Quote) is spending billions of dollars to dig more iron ore and coal in Australia, drill for shale gas in the United States and build a world-class potash business from scratch in Canada.

Meanwhile, output from its of aluminum and nickel operations has been largely flat or negative over the past year.

Some media reported Kloppers had denied the two divisions are up for sale while another report said he would consider selling them. So far, none of the $80 billion in BHP capital allocated up to 2015 to beef up its portfolio has been spent on either division.

The London Metal Exchange cash quote nickel price has dropped from nearly $30,000 a tonne earlier in the year to $18,000 currently. Aluminum has seen a similar decline, dropping as low as $1,975.50 a tonne from around $2,800.

Nickel and aluminum are both in oversupply and it could be years before the market rights itself, according to commodities analysts.