BHP Billiton Limited shares could be headed lower

Global mining giants BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP) and Vale have been specified by a Brazilian court as legally co-responsible for the Samarco mine disaster early in November this year.

The incident, which involved the catastrophic failure of one of Samarco’s tailings dams, killed at least 13 people and made hundreds homeless. It also destroyed several villages, some of which were dozens of miles away from the dam, and caused what is estimated to be billions of dollars’ worth of environmental damage.

While there has been much uncertainty regarding the incident itself and how it would impact the miners (BHP Billiton and Vale are joint 50/50 owners of Samarco), a Brazilian court has now provided some clarity. According to The Australian Financial Review, the court deemed BHP and Vale as “indirect polluters” which will likely see them be held responsible for any charges Samarco itself cannot cover.

The media report also noted that neither mining group had received formal notification of the decision and are thus yet to issue an official announcement to the market.

When combined with ongoing concerns regarding the sustainability of its ‘progressive dividend’ policy, together with crashing commodity prices, the incident at Samarco has had a dramatic impact on BHP Billiton’s share price.

Since the incident on 6 November, BHP’s shares have fallen more than 26% and recently hit their lowest price in more than 10 years. They’ve rebounded marginally since then, including a 1.7% rise today, and are now trading at $17.16 per share.

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Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ASXvalueinvest.

The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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