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Companies

BHP sees robust demand for metal in China, declares record dividend

Miner also expects recovery in the rest of global steel production

BHP declared an interim dividend of $1.01 per share, up from last year's payout of 65 cents per share.   © Reuters

MELBOURNE (Reuters) -- BHP Group on Tuesday reported its best first-half profit in seven years and declared a record interim dividend, as top metals user China's strong appetite for iron ore to support its infrastructure push kept prices elevated.

China's reliance on commodity-intensive stimulus measures to sustain economic growth has sent prices of the steel making ingredient to multi-year highs, while the COVID-19 vaccination push has brightened outlook for global trade this year.

The world's largest listed miner said in a statement it expects a continuation of strong Chinese demand in 2021, and recovery in the rest of the world's global crude steel production.

"It's a pretty solid result," said portfolio manager Andy Forster of Argo Investments.

"Relative to expectations, it looked pretty good, strong cash flows and dividend, projects operationally performing well," he said. "Strong iron ore and copper should set it up for a pretty good second half as well."

BHP is the first of its Australian peers to report this week, with all expected to cash in on sky high prices for iron ore. Rio Tinto reports on Wednesday and Fortescue on Thursday. Last month, BHP forecast record annual iron ore output.

The company declared an interim dividend of $1.01 per share, up from last year's payout of $0.65 per share.

Its underlying profit from continuing operations for the six months ended Dec. 31 rose to $6.04 billion from $5.19 billion last year. It missed a consensus of $6.33 billion, however, from 17 analysts compiled by research firm Vuma Financial.

BHP acknowledged that its coal business, which is under review for sale or spin off, has taken a hit due to a trade spat between Australia and China that the miner does not expect to be resolved any time soon.

"We're certainly not banking on any near-term resetting of that policy," Chief Executive Mike Henry told reporters on a results call.

BHP is expected to make an investment decision soon on its $5.3-$5.7 billion Jansen potash project in Canada and the Scarborough natural gas project off Western Australia, in which BHP will invest $1.4-1.9 billion.

Jefferies expects both to be approved, "but we believe M&A options will be considered as well," it said in a report.

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