Why the South32 Ltd share price climbed higher today

Billiton Limited (ASX:BHP) spin-off South32 Ltd (ASX:S32) is to slash more than 770 jobs.

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It’s been a horrible nine months for BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP), and its spin-off South32 Ltd (ASX: S32), since the company listed in May last year.

As you can see from the chart below, BHP is down over 47%, and South32 is down 42%, dropping from $2.05 on its first day of trading to its current price of $1.19.

(Source: Google Finance)

Diversified miner, South 32 today announced a half year net loss of US$1.75 billion (A$2.43 billion), hurt by large write-downs at its manganese business in Australia and energy coal operations in South Africa.

“The majority of our commodities have suffered a slump in prices,” chief executive Graham Kerr said.

“We don’t see prices rebounding in a dramatic way for the next 12 to 18 months,” he told an analysts’ call.

The company flagged write-downs of US$1.7 billion earlier in February after revising down its commodity price forecasts. It also announced the loss of 620 jobs at its troubled South African manganese business after slashing production there.

Today, it said it would cut another 772 jobs at its Australian operations, reducing employee and contractor numbers at the Worsley Alumina facility in Western Australia, Illawarra Metallurgical Coal operations in NSW and GEMCO manganese mining operation in the Northern Territory.

It will cut another 350 jobs at the Cerro Matoso nickel mine and smelter in Colombia.

The reductions, to be completed by June end, are part of the company’s efforts to reduce its per unit costs amid tough market conditions.

The restructuring will result in savings of US$160 million in FY17, and cut capital expenditure by US$275 million, it said.

Shares in the company jumped on the news. By 2pm, the share price was up 5.3% to $1.19.

South32, listed in May 2015 after demerging from mining giant BHP Billiton, it is the world’s largest producer of manganese ore and a global producer of manganese alloy, used in making steel and aluminium products.

It also has significant interests in alumina, silver, nickel and coal.

The company has slashed its debt and cut production at several high-cost mines and smelters, after announcing in August it would strip out US$350 million in costs by the end of its 2018 financial year.

It now expects to significantly exceed that target.

The company has also cut capital expenditure forecast for the current financial year by another US$150 million, to $550 million. It has, however, maintained its production guidance for the full year.

South32 had reported a net profit of US$339 million for the year ago period.

Underlying earnings, excluding non-cash impairments and the impact of foreign exchange, slumped 94% to US$26 million in the most recent period.

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