This week, Mike van Dulken and Augustin Eden from Accendo Markets warn that BHP Billiton investors should brace themselves for legal action of BP proportions…
BHP Billiton (BLT) is this week underperforming a similarly weak commodity sector, one which is already under the cosh from a US dollar rebound, an oil price turning over from its highs and persistent global growth concerns after the latest China data sapping investor sentiment. The reason Billiton’s faring worse than its peers stems from news of a $44bn civil legal challenge from Brazilian federal prosecutors related to last November’s Samarco dam failure. That in itself may appear to be a minor driver. It’ll be sorted out soon, won’t it?
Er, well, something similar happened to BP about six years ago and this has quite rightly spooked investors, who would now appear to be pricing in the prospect of long and protracted litigation akin to that which BP only put to bed in July last year – a whole five years and $53.8bn after its 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico disaster!
The claim against BHP Billiton relates to clean-up costs for waterways and villages, community rebuilding and compensation for the deaths of 19 people and resulting homelessness inflicted on a further 700. Sound familiar?
While BP worked tirelessly to limit the impact (both environmental and financial) of its disaster, several attempts to close the affair failed, and now a fresh legal challenge for BHP Billiton sees its situation echoing that endured by BP. The March 2016 settlement between BHP Billiton, its domestic partner Vale and the Brazilian government was potentially just the beginning of a long road. While there remains the possibility that such an imposing precedent as BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster is inflating the claim against BHP, one can’t help but see investors take flight at the prospect of added risk in an already risky sector.
Sure, the Brazilian government has form for demanding initially huge reparations for environmental disasters before conveniently reducing them, and a smaller settlement may well be agreed for BHP and its Samarco colleagues. But there is no guarantee of this. Then again, this is Brazil, where the president faces impeachment and replacement by any one of a number of equally dubious cronies.
BHP shares are still holding their uptrend from 2016 lows. Just. However, after giving up 50 per cent of their 2016 gains (now up just 40 per cent YTD vs highs of 80 per cent on 21 April), we have to wonder whether an already difficult situation could get even messier.
This commentary was provided exclusively for Hot Commodity by Accendo Markets: https://www.accendomarkets.com.