Sapa-AFP Sydney

The incoming chief executive of BHP Billiton, Andrew MacKenzie, would maintain focus on costs and productivity when he took the helm at the biggest mining group in May, he said yesterday.

The Anglo-Australian giant announced on Wednesday last week that Marius Kloppers would step down on May 10, after almost six years in the job, as it posted a plunge in first-half net profit of 58 percent to $4.2 billion (R37bn).

MacKenzie, currently the chief executive of the non-ferrous business at BHP Billion, said the company was in “great shape” and already had systems in place to drive the productivity agenda but he wanted to continue the momentum.

“I am committed to driving an agenda of productivity,” he said. “We got started early. We recognised that there was an opportunity to really start working the productivity agenda hard. The first fruits… are coming through in this half-year’s results.”

BHP Billiton said the results, in which it posted underlying earnings of $9.8bn for July to December 2012 ahead of a consensus of $9.5bn, were solid.

But mining houses were hit hard last year by steep falls in commodity prices including iron ore, and Kloppers said mining firms must cut costs since growth in China’s mineral demand was slowing.

“Over the next five years, we as BHP Billiton are going to see very strong demand from China but we are going to move from growth rates in minerals demand of 15 to 20 percent a year to 2 to 4 percent a year,” he said.