Is BHP Billiton Limited set to announce a capital raising?

Credit: Lucas Walters

Much has been written about BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP) over the last 12 months.

Clearly, it’s vulnerable to the inevitable slowdown in China’s economy, having relied on its growth and increasing demand for the world’s resources.

It’s also suffered as a result of the commodities crisis, affected by plummeting oil and iron ore prices while copper and coal are also sitting near multi-year lows.

Then there was the incident at its Samarco project in Brazil late last year, tragically killing more than a dozen people and causing billions of dollars in damage as well.

Any one of these incidents could be to blame for what will likely be the end of BHP’s so-called ‘progressive dividend’ policy, which has seen the miner increase its US-denominated payments to shareholders at every six-month interval for more than a decade.

That alone is enough to deter some investors from buying its shares today, even though they’re trading near their lowest price in more than a decade. They’re fetching just $15.52 today, down from $17.86 at the beginning of the year and from roughly $45 a share back in 2011.

However, one factor that investors don’t seem to have paid too much attention to is the possibility of a major capital raising by the miner.

Indeed, as commodity prices have fallen, so too have BHP’s revenues and earnings. Its cash flows are down while its balance sheet has taken a huge hit.

As highlighted by The Sydney Morning Herald, analysts at Morgan Stanley don’t think a dividend cut will be enough to address the miner’s balance sheet.

Reductions in capital expenditures will likely also be needed, as will further improvements in operating efficiencies, while fresh equity may need to be issued as well.

How much? According to The Australian Financial Review, analysts from Bank of America think it could raise up to US$15.4 billion ($21.9 billion), while its rival Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) could raise US$5.7 billion.

Of course, such an amount would also allow the miners to take advantage of cheaper assets on sale.

Commodity producers around the globe will be considering the possibility of offloading their assets to shore up cash levels, and BHP may look to take advantage of that to be ready for the next commodities cycle.

But it’s a concern nonetheless. Such a major capital raising would heavily dilute shareholder ownership, likely forcing the share price considerably lower.

With China’s growth slowing down, and further losses possible for the big miner, investors need to ask themselves whether BHP’s shares are worth their time and money, or whether they think they could get a better return elsewhere.

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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. 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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