Profits Flow to Rio Tinto

No doubt mining is a difficult, dirty, and often dangerous way to make a living. Matters aren't helped by the fact that the underlying markets are highly cyclical. Nevertheless, profit is profit, and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) has been booking a lot of that lately.

Numbers released today showed that revenue for the first half of the year jumped 39% to more than $9 billion. As befits the trend in the metals and minerals markets over the last year, Rio Tinto experienced both higher production volumes and higher pricing. Margins also improved and the company reported that net income from underlying operations more than doubled to over $2 billion. By the way, "underlying operations" largely means "excluding gains on asset sales" in this case.

Everywhere you look, Rio Tinto was strong. While the diamonds business posted the least impressive growth of the major groups, income here was still up 10%. There was exceptional profit growth in the iron, copper, and energy businesses, with prices for iron ore, copper, coal, and uranium staying quite robust.

Rio Tinto isn't simply sitting on its rear and piling up cash during this boom. Instead, it's putting some of its prodigious cash flow to work in opening or expanding worldwide production capabilities. From iron ore in Australia to titanium dioxide in Madagascar to potash in Argentina, Rio Tinto is investing money back into the business.

That's not to say that it has been miserly toward shareholders. Far from it. Rio Tinto pays a respectable dividend and has been quite willing to spend capital on significant share buybacks as well.

While it seems to be fashionable these days to say that the bull market in all commodities is in its waning days, I see that as potentially shortsighted. There are certainly areas where the momentum has slowed (basic steel, for instance), but the demand and prices for many basic commodities is still rather strong.

Investors looking at iron ore can consider Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, or CVRD (NYSE: RIO  ) , while those looking for a nickel play might glance at Inco (NYSE: N  ) . For coal, you have Peabody (NYSE: BTU  ) , and for copper Phelps Dodge (NYSE: PD  ) . Aluminum may lead you toward Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) and titanium may take you toward Allegheny Technologies (NYSE: ATI  ) .

All of those names have their merits. Of course, you could just buy Rio Tinto and gain at least partial exposure to all of those markets with one stock.

For mineral and metal musings:

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (thatmeanshe's neither long nor short the shares).


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