(Adds analyst comment, share price move)
MELBOURNE, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Australian diversified miner South32 Ltd posted a slight increase in half-year profit on Thursday, and said a strong recovery in demand for key commodities outside China early this year has put the company on track for solid growth.
“We are off to a strong start in 2021, as we continue to build on our recent operating performance,” the company said.
“We are now seeing a rebound in demand from markets outside of China for some of our key commodities, that is underpinning a recovery in prices. With this, our business is well placed to benefit as the global economy recovers.”
Prices of South32’s top three commodities — metallurgical coal, aluminium and manganese — slumped in 2019 amid a trade dispute between China and the United States and remained weak through the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic disrupted businesses and hit production.
Underlying earnings for the half year came in at $136 million, compared with $131 million a year earlier, and slightly above consensus estimates of $135 million.
The Perth-based firm declared an interim dividend of 1.4 cents per share, up from 1.1 cents per share a year ago.
RBC, which has an outperform recommendation on South32 said that better performance in its aluminium business lifted results, while divestment of its coal division, expected to finalise this quarter, will improve its balance sheet.
“The sale will increase group margins, lower capex and remove rehabilitation liabilities of $739 million, providing a A20-24¢ (net present value) NPV uplift,” it said.
RBC also expects the sale to lower South32’s cost of capital and free up $500-600 million of capital on the balance sheet.
Shares rose 0.74% in a broadly flat market.
Reporting by Melanie Burton Arpit Nayak and Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Jacqueline Wong