Feb. 20 (UPI) -- In reporting its results for the second half of 2017, Australian mining giant BHP Billiton said it's expecting initial bids for its U.S. shale assets by June.
The company said Tuesday its underlying profit for the second half of 2017 improved 25 percent from the same period last year to $4 billion. BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie said higher prices across commodities, including crude oil, delivered free cash flow of $4.9 billion.
"We used this cash to further reduce net debt and increase returns to shareholders through higher dividends," he said in a statement.
BHP spent $336 million total on U.S. onshore and development during the second half of 2017 and spending targeting the more lucrative basins, like the Permian shale in Texas, was unchanged from the same period in 2016.
BHP dismissed a push last year by managers at hedge fund Elliot Associates and Elliot International, which hold minor shares in the company, to split off its U.S. oil division in order to unlock tens of billions of U.S. dollars in shareholder value. Nevertheless, the company said it was adjusting its capital plans to accommodate the planned exit from U.S. shale.
"Onshore U.S. exit for value progressing to plan, with initial bids expected to be received in the June 2018 quarter," the company stated.
Still, while the company said it would cut its rig count in the second half of the year, it said onshore U.S. production for 2019 would be largely stable because improved well performance would offset the decline in the number of active rigs. The company said its expected total onshore production of 35 million barrels of oil equivalent for the first half of the year would be 13 percent higher than the same period last year.
The company said last week it was anticipating a $1.8 billion charge on U.S. tax code changes, but expects long-term benefits.