MELBOURNE (Reuters) - BHP Billiton will book a charge of up to $1.3 billion to cover the costs of a dam disaster last November at the Samarco iron ore mine in Brazil, putting it on course to report its worst ever annual loss.
BHP said on Thursday the provision of between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion partly reflected uncertainty on when Samarco, its iron ore joint venture with Brazil's Vale, would resume operations.
The charge accounts for BHP's share of a settlement that the company and Vale reached with the Brazilian agreement to cover clean-up costs and damages for the dam burst that killed 19 people, left hundreds homeless and polluted a major river.
Analysts are expecting BHP to report an attributable full-year profit, before one-offs, of about $1.1 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
But with one-off charges in the first-half of $6.1 billion after tax, plus the Samarco provision in the second half, the net result will be the company's worst ever.
The Samarco disaster will continue to weigh on BHP as the ultimate payout remains up in the air after a Brazilian court recently decided to reinstate a $6 billion public civil claim over the disaster. BHP and Vale have said they will appeal that decision.
BHP Billiton is also providing a further $134 million to help compensate people hit by the dam spill, as well as a short-term loan of up to $116 million to Samarco.
"The safe restart of the Samarco operations remains an important priority, along with the restructure of Samarco's debt," BHP said.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin)