Feb. 2 -- BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP), the world’s fourth-largest nickel producer, will reduce mining operations at its West Australian operations by 30 percent because of weak metal prices and the strong Australian dollar.
BHP will cut staff numbers by about 155 jobs and slow the mining rate at the Mt Keith operation for about a year, Fiona Martin, a spokeswoman for the Melbourne-based company, said today. Stockpiled ore will be used to produce nickel concentrate in the short term, keeping output at close to current levels, BHP said.
Nickel for three month delivery has declined 17 percent in the past six months while the Australian dollar was the second- strongest performing major currency against the dollar over the same period. Supply may grow by 8 percent this year as companies including Vale SA, Xstrata Plc and Anglo American Plc add capacity, Macquarie Group Ltd. said in a report on Jan. 20.
“It’s a reasonably clear signal that they don’t expect the nickel market to reach a bottom anytime soon,” Mark Pervan, commodity strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Melbourne, said by phone. The outlook for demand from stainless steel consumers, particularly in Europe, is weak, he said.
BHP, the world’s largest mining company, fell 1.5 percent to A$36.91 at the close of Sydney trading, compared with a 0.9 percent decline in the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index. The company also produces nickel at the Cerro Matoso operation in Colombia, according to its website.
The Nickel West operations include the Mt Keith and Leinster mines, concentrators, a smelter and a refinery, according to the company’s website. BHP produced 50,800 metric tons of nickel from the operations in 2011, according to a regulatory filing.