BHP Group PLC (LON:BHP) unveiled a record dividend payment on Tuesday but it was not as much as analysts had wanted. 

Underlying attributable profit of US$9.1bn was up 2% on the previous year, while at the statutory level profit more than doubled to US$8.3bn thanks to strong iron-ore prices and much lower one-off charges.

Basic earnings per share were up 130% to US$1.6.

Boosted by higher metals prices and strong production from several mines, free cash flow was strong at US$10bn.

Some of this cash will be used to pay a final dividend of 78 cents per share, taking the total dividend to US$1.33 and will mean the group returned US$17bn to shareholders over the financial year.

Many analysts, however, had expected a special dividend.

Chief executive Andrew Mackenzie hailed the increases in production volumes and reductions in unit costs over the past five years and said the strong levels of cash were also used to invest in growth projects and advance exploration programs. 

There are six major projects under development in petroleum, copper, iron ore and potash, following the approval of the Ruby oil and gas development this month.

Net debt was cut by US$1.7bn to US$9.2bn, below the long-term target range of US$10bn-US$15bn.

“This disciplined approach sets us up to deliver strong returns over the long term,” Mackenzie said. 

“Our transformation programs have the potential to unlock significant value through more productive and stable operations, as we embrace new ways of working and harness new technology.”