Rapid dieting for Mackenzie's BHP

BHP Billiton's new chief executive, Andrew Mackenzie, has outlined just how deeply he intends to slash into the company's capital expenditure over the next three years - cutting 18 per cent from the 2014 budget, and another swathe in 2015 and 2016.

BHP Billiton's new chief executive, Andrew Mackenzie, has outlined just how deeply he intends to slash into the company's capital expenditure over the next three years - cutting 18 per cent from the 2014 budget, and another swathe in 2015 and 2016.

In doing so he has fleshed out the extent to which the old BHP Billiton has been replaced by a new regime, which is all about sweating the existing assets and projects.

It is now all about the company's productivity agenda - cutting costs and enhancing returns from existing projects by increasing margins in an environment where there is no growth in commodity prices .

The heady days of buying future growth are over as Mackenzie outlined a new era where projects need to compete internally for capital.

In a presentation on Tuesday night he told investors this new auster strategy would maximise the return on incremental investment and substantially increase free cash flow.

It puts question marks over a number of growth projects that have been in the pipeline. The very capital-intensive US shale assets must be under review and the timing of the Canadian potash expansion could also be moved out.

The news will receive a vote of appreciation from investors who have been arguing for the major mining companies such as BHP and Rio Tinto to pull back on capital expenditure and focus attention on delivering capital to shareholders.

Mackenzie hinted the company would consider returning more cash to shareholders.

BHP's decision to cut capital expenditure will reinforce concerns that the capital investment from the mining boom has peaked. For BHP this peak was in 2012 and now continues to move into decline.

- An interesting survey was released on Tuesday showing that almost half Australia's finance professionals - a group dominated by investment bankers - intend

to move to a different employer this year.

It was one of those expectation surveys that can tell one a lot about intentions rather than a historical look at what has taken place.

The survey, by global career site eFinancialCareers, found the biggest reason for people wanting to leave was a lack of career progression, the perception that someone else would pay them more and that they missed recognition.

The same survey was done last year and the percentage of finance professionals that intended to leave was even greater.

Unfortunately there is no accurate survey that will tell us how many of the disenfranchised investment bankers, funds managers and stockbrokers actually moved.

The reality is probably not many. Indeed, since the global financial crisis, and in the past few years in particular, the movement of these financials professionals is more likely to be out of the industry or out of a job.

The desires mapped out in this survey reflect fantasy thought bubbles for many in the finance industry. For the most part those that have retained their jobs

may desire to move on but are not able to.

Investment banks, funds managers and stock brokers are shedding jobs through sackings or attrition. There are very few instances of hirings.

Thus those more experienced players are sitting still rather than moving around and leaving little room for those junior operatives to advance.

Staff cuts are speculated to be more than 10 per cent over the past 18 months and growing as firms grapple with a revenue slump due to subdued trading activity, a near non-existent IPO market, while deal flow and merger and acquisitions activity has been reduced to a trickle.

Despite a generally more bullish sharemarket this year, the rise in the value of the index has not been matched by a rise in the volumes of shares traded.

The wholesale staff cuts may have eased a little this calendar year but the net numbers of investment bankers and stockbrokers will still be falling.

Investment banks will admit to this but none want to be specific about numbers.

The large trading banks can't have absorbed these professionals because they too have been busy cutting great swathes from their workforce.

The only listed investment bank in Australia, Macquarie Group, is said to have lost 1585 jobs last year - 13 per cent of the total.

Others have been culling staff more quietly, wanting their cost cutting to remain under the radar.

Many of those left behind are dealing with the prospects of zero (or little) bonus and no material advancement in an industry which they joined expecting to be handsomely rewarded.

So it's not particularly surprising that the survey reflects an industry whose participants are looking to move out. Last year they were looking to the mining and IT industries as potential employers.

But for the most part they are stuck or moving to the ranks of the new hidden white-collar unemployed.

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