BHP Billiton's chief executive to retire in May as earnings plummet

SYDNEY (AP) - BHP Billiton has announced that Mr Marius Kloppers will retire as chief executive and director, as the world's biggest miner on Wednesday posted a 58 per cent fall in half-year profit.

Mr Kloppers will be replaced on May 10 after six years at the helm by the company's chief executive of its non-ferrous metals division, Mr Andrew Mackenzie, 56.

"Despite an exceptionally difficult environment during his tenure, Marius and his team have delivered for shareholders, significantly outperforming our peers in terms of total shareholder returns," BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser said in a statement. "He drove new investments into next generation opportunities, including US onshore gas and liquids and created one of the most valuable companies in the world."

Mr Mackenzie brought deep industry knowledge and global management experience to the CEO role, he said. Mr Mackenzie held senior positions with rival miner Rio Tinto before joining BHP Billiton in 2008.

The announcement came as the Anglo-Australian company posted a 58 per cent fall in first half profit to US$4.24 billion (S$5.25 billion) due to lower commodity prices and a weak U.S. dollar. The company's net profit in the six months to Dec 31 was down from US$9.94 billion in the previous corresponding period. The result included US$1.4 billion in one-off costs from asset sales.

Profit excluding one-off items was US$5.7 billion in the six months through December, down 43 percent from US$9.94 billion for the December 2011 half, due to falls in iron ore and other commodity prices last year. Analysts had expected a net profit excluding one-offs of US$5.69 billion.