COMPANY NEWS IN BRIEF

18 February 2021 | Sakenuus
BHP sees robust China demand

BHP Group on Tuesday reported its best first-half profit in seven years and declared a record interim dividend, as top metals user China's strong appetite for iron ore to support its infrastructure push kept prices elevated.

China's reliance on commodity-intensive stimulus measures to sustain economic growth has sent prices of the steel making ingredient to multi-year highs, while the Covid-19 vaccination push has brightened outlook for global trade this year.

The world's largest listed miner said in a statement it expects a continuation of strong Chinese demand in 2021, and recovery in the rest of the world's global crude steel production.

"It's a pretty solid result," said portfolio manager Andy Forster of Argo Investments.

"Relative to expectations, it looked pretty good, strong cash flows and dividend, projects operationally performing well," he said. "Strong iron ore and copper should set it up for a pretty good second half as well."

BHP is the first of its Australian peers to report this week, with all expected to cash in on sky high prices for iron ore. Rio Tinto reports on Wednesday and Fortescue on Thursday. Last month, BHP forecast record annual iron ore output. -Nampa/Reuters

Glencore reinstates dividend

Glencore reinstated its dividend and flagged possible further pay-outs on the back of strong commodity prices as billionaire Chief Executive Ivan Glasenberg prepares to hand over the reins of the trading and mining giant.

Having scrapped its dividend in August after a pandemic-driven first-half loss, Glencore recommended a distribution of US$0.12 per share for 2021, representing a bigger than expected total pay-out of US$1.6 billion.

Glasenberg, Glencore's second-largest shareholder, is handing over to Gary Nagle in the first half of the year after 18 years at the helm but reiterated he plans to keep his 9% stake.

"I have no intention of selling my shares. I hope Gary will do a good job to ensure he keeps paying dividends," he said told reporters.

Nagle, who moves into the CEO hot seat from the company's coal business, said Glencore was a complicated company with many assets but he does not plan to make major changes to the structure. - Nampa/Reuters

South African retailer SPAR's sales rise

South African grocery retailer SPAR Group said on Tuesday group sales rose by 9.8% in the 18 weeks ended Jan. 29 but the country's ban on alcohol hit liquor sales, sending its shares down more than 5%.

SPAR, which has more than 4 300 stores across Southern Africa, Ireland, Poland and Switzerland, said group sales rose to 42.99 billion rand (US$2.98 billion) from 39.15 billion rand in the previous corresponding period.

South African retailers had largely soft trading at Christmas and in "Black November", an extension of Black Friday when retailers offer discounts, as shoppers spent less on groceries.

Total sales in Southern Africa, SPAR's largest market, which include grocery, liquor and building materials, rose by 3.4%, reflecting weaker consumer spending and lost liquor business, the retailer said.

Its core SPAR grocery business in the region increased sales by 2.8%. Liquor sales fell by 17.9%, adversely impacted by the ban on the sale of alcohol in South Africa imposed late in December as part of C-19 lockdown restrictions. - Nampa/Reuters

South African Airways granted US$346 mln

South African Airways (SAA) has received a further 5 billion rand (US$346 million) from the Department of Public Enterprises to help make severance payments to laid-off staff as part of its rescue plan, administrators of the plan said yesterday.

SAA entered a local form of bankruptcy protection in December 2019 after roughly a decade of financial losses, with its fortunes worsening after the Covid-19 pandemic grounded flights.

The government committed to providing 10.5 billion rand to bailout the airline in October's mid-term budget.

The business rescue practitioners (BRP) hired to restructure the airline said they had received 7.8 billion rand from the government including the latest payment.

The administrators, who have proposed a plan which includes reducing the airline's staff by around two-thirds, said the money allowed them to pay cabin crew and ground staff that had accepted voluntary severance packages in August.

More than 3 000 SAA employees have accepted severance packages, while 1 300 are still in negotiations, the administrators said. -Nampa/AFP

Southwest forecasts slower cash burn

Southwest Airlines on Tuesday forecast slower cash burn in the current quarter as leisure bookings and demand improve in February.

The US budget carrier said it expects average core cash burn to be about US$15 million a day in the first quarter, compared with the US$17 million it estimated previously, sending its shares up more than 2% in trading before the bell.

Southwest, however, said business travel demand and bookings remained depressed. US airlines expect demand to improve this year as vaccines become more widely distributed but have warned that the strength of any rebound will depend on the pace of vaccine rollouts and the easing of travel restrictions.

So far, the US vaccine roll-out has been patchy and many European countries are discouraging travel and implementing more travel curbs to contain the spread of new infections.

Southwest late last month reported an annual loss of US$3.1 billion, its first such loss since 1972, and said it was facing stalled demand in January and February, driven by high levels of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. - Nampa/Reuters

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