BHP Group is moving ahead with plans to exit thermal coal, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest move by the world’s biggest miners to retreat from the dirtiest fuel.
BHP is looking at options to divest the business that includes assets in Australia and Colombia, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the development has not been made public. There’s no guarantee the company will go ahead with a sale, the people said.
The decision demonstrates how growing climate-change pressure from investors and regulators is reshaping the future of extractive industries. Rival Rio Tinto Group has already removed all exposure to thermal coal and other producers including Anglo American Plc have been cutting output amid growing pressure from investors. Even Glencore Plc, the biggest shipper, has said it will look to limit production.
Glencore Dominates Thermal Coal
BHP had already signaled cooling interest in thermal coal. Earlier this year, Chief Financial Officer Peter Beaven said the company had no appetite for growth in the commodity.
While thermal coal makes up a fraction of BHP’s profits, it’s led to some investors saying they can’t hold the stock.
Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund last month got the green light to dump more than $13 billion in stocks linked to fossil fuels, including companies that mine more than 20 million tons of thermal coal, pushing Anglo American and BHP out of reach. Climate Action 100+, which has the backing of more than 300 investors managing $32 trillion, has already forced reforms from extractive giants such as BP Plc and Glencore.
For BHP, thermal coal has become increasingly hard to justify. The company’s profits are driven by iron ore, oil, copper and coking coal (used to make steel) and thermal coal is likely to contribute just 1% of profit this year, according to Liberum Capital Markets.
BHP’s move comes as its biggest rival, Rio, has become increasingly emboldened on climate change after offloading its last coal mines last year. The company has started promoting itself as the only major miner without exposure to fossil fuels.
The move is also likely to put further pressure on Anglo, which, despite dramatically cutting its coal output, still mines almost 30 million tons a year.
Thermal Coal a Rounding Error
Still, exiting coal is unlikely to be easy for BHP. Its Colombian mine stake, which it owns with Anglo and Glencore, feeds the European market where demand is weak right now. Capacity could be cut in the country to balance an oversupplied market, Liberum estimated.
Macquarie Group Ltd. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are seen as frontrunners to run a sales process for the BHP assets, the people said.
Macquarie said earlier this year that BHP’s Australian thermal coal business had a net present value of about $600 million and estimated the figure for its Cerrejon business in Colombia at about $1 billion.