Collapse in commodities ends BHP's record run

BHP Billiton, the world&rsquo;s largest miner, yesterday reported a 30 per cent slide in annual profit excluding writedowns, its first fall in seven years, pummelled by a slump in metals prices and demand.<br /><br />It said there were emerging signs of demand improving in North America, Europe and Japan, but said it was too early to tell if this improvement was driven by real demand or restocking.<br /><br />Net profit before one-offs fell to $10.72bn (&pound;6.50bn) for the year to June from $15.4bn a year earlier, but five percent above analysts&rsquo; forecasts of around $10.2bn.<br /><br />BHP, which employs 40,000 in 25 countries, held its final dividend steady at 41 cents a share, raising the full year payout by 17 per cent.<br /><br />While the whole mining sector has suffered from the global economic slump, forcing companies to idle capacity and delay expansion projects, BHP Billiton is seen to be well-positioned with its strong balance sheet to take advantage of any upturn.<br /><br />&ldquo;BHP remains cautious on dividends which means it is still very well positioned to participate in opportunistic M&amp;A,&rdquo; Thuy Quynh Dang of Barclays Wealth said.