Mackenzie flags BHP buybacks

Chief executive says shareholder returns in focus when debt eases to $US25bn.

BHP Billiton (BHP) chief executive Andrew Mackenzie has moved to reassure investors that a plunge in the iron ore price won’t hinder the miner’s aim to increase shareholder rewards.

Speaking to The Sunday Times of London, Mr Mackenzie said the miner first wants to see its net debt come down to $US25 billion ($A27.8bn).

"When we get to that number, we will have a serious and practical conversation on how we might increase cash returns to shareholders," Mr Mackenzie said.

As of December 31 last year, BHP was sitting on $US27.1bn in net debt, with expectations that the $A25bn target will be within sight around June 30.

Mr Mackenzie has been doing the media rounds this weekend between Australia and the United Kingdom, where the miner is listed, as he comes up on one-year in the top job since taking over from Marius Kloppers.