MELBOURNE (Reuters) - BHP Group <BHP.AX> <BHPB.L> is in good shape to take action should supply chain disruption caused by the global coronavirus epidemic trigger acquisition opportunities, the global miner's Chairman Ken MacKenzie said on Tuesday.
"On balance, the business is in very good shape," MacKenzie said, speaking at the Australian Financial Review summit in Sydney.
"I'm not sure if there will be any opportunities that will come from this but if there are, we are actually in a position to act."
Last month, the world's biggest miner said this year's demand could take a hit if fallout from the coronavirus outbreak extended beyond March. The virus, which originated in China, has now spread to at least 105 countries and territories and global economic growth is now expected to take a serious hit.
Even as China's businesses and economy show signs of recovery after a stringent campaign to contain the virus, production and transport disruption within the country have boosted import demand for BHP's products such as iron ore and metallurgical coal, MacKenzie said.
Global miners have been paying down debt and returning cash to shareholders since commodity prices revived following a crash in 2015, but investors remain cautious about large buys following disastrous top-of-the cycle acquisitions at the turn of last decade.
BHP has returned $33 billion to shareholders since the cycle troughed and has paid down net debt to $12.8 billion, around half of $25.9 billion this time four years ago.
"We have engineered the business so that (at) the bottom of the cycle, the business is not only capable of surviving but of thriving," MacKenzie said.
BHP has been focused on scenario analysis around the potential impact of the virus on global supply chains, he said. Since more value is created from moves at the bottom of the economic cycle, or when assets are cheap, the miner is also looking at any opportunities that might arise from other disruptions, like climate change.
"We need to have a business that is ready for the bottom of the cycle at all times," he said.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)