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BHP appoints new boss as profit slides 58%

BHP Billiton has appointed a new chief executive, Andrew Mackenzie, to chart a new future in which it can't rely on high prices.

BHP Billiton has appointed a new chief executive to chart a course beyond the iron ore boom and in search of new sources of profit growth.

New boss, 56-year-old Scotsman Andrew Mackenzie, insisted he would not change much about the world's biggest miner's current strategy.

However, outgoing chief executive Marius Kloppers said BHP could no longer "rely on the tailwind of prices" and he did not think the recent spikes in iron ore prices - which it is already committed to expanding - would be sustained.

That was highlighted by a worse-than-expected 58 per cent fall in first half profit, driven by lower iron ore, coking coal and oil and gas prices, cost increases and a weak US dollar.

BHP's net profit fell to $US4.24 billion ($AUD4.14 billion) in the six months to December 31 from $US9.94 billion ($A9.70 billion) in the previous corresponding period.

The result included $US1.4 billion ($A1.37 billion) in one-off costs from asset sales and write-downs. Excluding one-off items, the underlying profit was $US5.7 billion ($A5.56 billion), down 43 per cent but in line with analysts' expectations.

Mr Mackenzie's appointment on Wednesday was seen by analysts as a necessary change of direction because BHP under Mr Kloppers had tried to pull off massive deals and posted record iron ore-driven profits, but the environment had changed.

In the first six months of the year it stripped out $US944 million ($A916.33 million) in costs, aiming to achieve $US1.9 billion ($A1.84 billion) for the year, in a move welcomed by analysts.

The pricing future is expected to be brighter for copper, oil and gas than iron ore and coking coal, as China moves from infrastructure investment to energy consumption.

"I want to continue the momentum we built together with Marius and put an even sharper focus on the execution of that strategy," Mr Mackenzie, who is BHP's current non-ferrous metal chief, said.

"There are some quite powerful synergies that you can unlock between mining and petroleum ... I think petroleum has a fundamental part to play in our company and we are one of the only companies - possibly the only company - that can create value through unlocking those synergies." Iron ore, which generated about half of BHP's earnings, fell 39 per cent to $US4.8 billion ($A4.66 billion).

Petroleum disappointed, down by 23 per cent to $US3.2 billion ($A3.11 billion), contributing 33 per cent of earnings.

Higher copper prices and volumes contributed to a 20 per cent lift in earnings for base metals to $US1.967 billion ($A1.91 billion).

Meanwhile, BHP paid a $US77 million ($A74.74 million) instalment of the federal government's mineral resources rent tax for the December half.

Morningstar resources analyst Mark Taylor said he believed Mr Kloppers probably had not wanted to take on a new role "eking out value" after having such big-picture strategies.

"Marius was in there as a big strategy guy, trying to pull off some of the deals of the century that didn't quite get pulled off, such as the ($US147 billion) Rio Tinto merger, PotashCorp," he told AAP.

"Petroleum is potentially one of BHP's divisions that can be a growth area ... I don't really see energy prices collapsing myself and it will be much harder to keep on top of growing energy demand."

BHP lifted its interim dividend two cents to 57 US cents and its shares closed 35 cents weaker at $38.65. Follow CFO World Australia on Twitter: @CFOworld_AU, or take part in the CFO World conversation on LinkedIn: CFO World.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

More about: AAP, Andrew, BHP, BHP Billiton, Morningstar, Rio
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