BHP should take Elliott's activism as a compliment

Posted May 29, 2017

Elliott, which owns a 4.1% stake in BHP's UK-listed division, has urged the oil giant to conduct an independent review its petroleum business as its shares have consistently underperformed.

"Our path is deliberate, with value and returns at the centre of everything we do", Mackenzie said in a copy of his speech.

Mackenzie outlined BHP's plans, which he argues could lift the value of the company by 50% and double its return on capital.

This is the story many in the business media and the investment industry won't tell you - but that attack on BHP from a United States hedge fund and private equity group has collapsed as it has been forced to significantly recast its ideas.

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Elliott had been pushing originally for BHP to collapse collapse its dual listings on the London and Australian sharemarkets, and move its domicile and primary listing to London, and spin out its North American oil and gas assets.

The activist investor harrying BHP Billiton has claimed "deep-rooted shareholder support" among fellow investors despite backtracking on a key demand.

"What this shows is that Elliott aren't fly-by-night, they are clearly sticking around", said Andy Forster, senior investment officer at Argo Investments Ltd., which manages more than A$5 billion ($3.7 billion) and holds BHP's Sydney-listed shares.

"We and other shareholders are concerned that despite the clear signs that the market is receptive to a new strategy for BHP, current management seems intent on quieting the enthusiasm for BHP to dig deeper in tackling the obvious shareholder value enhancement opportunities which exist", Elliott wrote in a letter to BHP's directors. Copper and coal costs have also been slashed as well. Elliott suggested a full or partial demerger of the business but asked for an in-depth independent review of the petroleum operations first.

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Elliott reiterated that the stock has consistently underperformed, blaming what it called value-destroying moves including the about $23 billion foray into the USA onshore oil and gas sector, $8 billion spent on petroleum exploration with no apparent value created and about $9 billion "destroyed" in share buybacks at inflated prices.

Sources said Elliott boss Paul Singer was not present in the meeting, but several members of his Hong Kong-based team were in attendance.

BHP has cut costs, invested in major growth projects, and has options to increase production capacity across its portfolio, Mr Mackenzie said.

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