BHP Billiton still looking to China growth

Elizabeth Fournier

BILLITON’S chief commercial officer dismissed speculation that China is facing a downturn yesterday, saying the country could continue to grow at around seven to eight per cent.

“Everything we see points to the fact that China, without doing anything extraordinary, can continue to grow at around seven to eight per cent,” Alberto Calderon said at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Perth.

Earlier in the day, economist Nouriel Roubini flagged a downturn in China as one of the risks facing the global economy.

Calderon said if Roubini was correct, then iron ore and copper markets would clearly be affected, but if Europe resolves its debt crisis, then demand and markets would improve.

Rio Tinto also said at the conference it remains confident in the long-term drivers of economic growth, and specifically iron ore, demand in China.

“The issue is contagion. It’s perception, it’s fears,” said Rio’s iron ore division head and Australian chief executive Sam Walsh. “When you look at the fundamentals of China, India, South Asia, North Asia, we find it’s very robust.”

Spot iron ore prices have shed 19 per cent so far this month in a sell-off largely fuelled by slower construction steel demand in China, the world’s biggest buyer of imported iron ore at around 400m tonnes a year.