Illawarra firm part of BHP Billiton spin-off

BHP Billiton has made its resources spin-off more attractive by including its metallurgical coal mines in NSW in the new company and excluding the Nickel West portfolio.

The mining giant on Tuesday revealed it would include its Illawarra metallurgical coal business in NSW. It also posted a $US13.4 billion underlying profit for 2013-14.

As flagged by Fairfax Media, BHP will install its chief financial officer Graham Kerr as the new group's inaugural chief executive, and its longest-serving director, David Crawford will take the chair. Board members will be, in the main, sought from outside BHP.

The new company will be headquartered in Perth, due to the geographic spread of the assets, and BHP will issue the new company to all shareholders.

Both sets of shareholders, in Australia and London, will be required to vote on the demerger before June.

The new group will take primary listing on the ASX, and a secondary listing in South Africa.

By including Illawarra coal, BHP has given the spin-off the headline "hero" asset it needs to generate investor interest in a new mid-tier resources company.

Metallurgical coal prices have been languishing about $US120 a tonne - well off the $US300 heights they traded at in 2011 - but the Illawarra business is considered fundamentally strong by investors.

NSW coal has been one of the big unknowns in the demerger - dubbed Project River and led by Goldman Sachs - and BHP's management was agonising over whether to spin off its Illawarra or Hunter Valley operations.

By dumping Nickel West from the line-up - at least for the time being - BHP has sent a clear signal that nickel is too troublesome a commodity to muddy the spin-off process. The business has been on the market for months but has failed to attract a figure near BHP's $800 million valuation.

But the spin-off will include BHP's other main nickel asset - Cerro Matoso in Colombia.

The line-up also includes energy coal and aluminium assets in South Africa, and bauxite, manganese and alumina in Australia.

Aside from NSW coal, the spin-off's other hero asset is the Cannington lead-silver mine in Queensland.

The new company includes most of the assets that fall outside the four key commodity "pillars" BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie is championing: iron ore, petroleum, ­copper and coal. Potash is a possible fifth pillar.

The second-tier assets to be spun out represent a small slice of earnings pulled in by BHP, which has a market capitalisation of about $190 billion. Together, aluminium, nickel and manganese contributed just 1 per cent of financial 2013 EBIT.

In NSW, BHP runs the Mount Arthur coal mine and the Caroona project in Hunter Valley, and has three underground mines in the Illawarra region.

The new leadership team also includes BHP's head of investor relations Brendan Harris, as chief financial officer.

The bulk of the South African assets to be spun out were taken on by BHP when it merged with Billiton in 2001.

SMH

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