The bull case for BHP
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Christine St Anne is Morningstar's online editor.
Global investment manager BlackRock drew media attention when it sold off about $800 million worth of Australia-listed BHP Billiton (BHP) shares.
A major shareholder of the company, the investment manager reduced the exposure in its World Mining Fund from 10 per cent to 6.5 per cent.
Closer to home, a number of fund mangers have also moved to reduce their stake in the big Australian. Fidelity Worldwide Investments, Investors Mutual and BT Investment Management (BTT) have all sold off a number of shares, albeit not on the same scale as BlackRock. BHP still remains among their top 10 holdings.
Treasury Asia Asset Management senior analyst Kenneth Wan has underweighted his fund to BHP, citing concerns about costs and falling capital returns.
"They have enjoyed a big commodity boom over the last few years. They have also invested in a number of large projects to get to the size they are now. Now there is a possibility they have overinvested and we may see write-downs this year," Wan says.
In particular, he describes the investment in energy and gas company Petrohawk in August last year as ill-planned, given falling gas prices.
He says the company's greenfield projects, like the Olympic Dam in South Australia, the Outer Harbour Development in Port Hedland, Western Australia, and the Jansen Potash Project in Canada are not expected to deliver the same level of returns as BHP's traditional brownfield expansions.
"The Olympic Dam project is expected to only deliver a 10 per cent return on an investment worth billions of dollars. That's pretty much a mediocre return," he says.
"There are certainly challenges for BHP to grow. If you are going to be bullish on resources, then I would prefer to invest in BHP's peers."
BHP may now be seen as an ex-growth story, but that is distinct from whether or not it is a good investment, according to Morningstar senior resources analyst Mark Taylor.
"Morningstar has always held the belief that investing in a company is based on long-term fundamentals and value drivers. Earnings are lower, but we believe the company still represents value," Taylor says.
90West Asset Management executive David Whitten also believes BHP is attractive, particularly on a valuation basis.
The former global head of Colonial First State's global resources team, Whitten says BHP has underperformed the market by 15 per cent over the last six months.
He also notes that UK investors have valued BHP differently to Australian investors, with the former having a more favourable outlook on the stock.
"I have done some work on the relative value of the stock between the London Stock Exchange and the Australian Securities Exchange," he says.
"There has been a marked change and what I think has happened is that the UK investors in BHP have a much more favourable outlook than the Australian investors."