BHP Billiton's Commodity Buffet

If Archer Daniels Midland is the "supermarket to the world," maybe it's fair to say that BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP  ) is the buffet of industry. Even in our modern society, our creature comforts are dependent on harvesting the world's resources, and BHP Billiton is a major force in that line of work.

With exposure to an exceptionally wide range of minerals, metals, and energy products, BHP Billiton has certainly been enjoying the commodity boom. Revenue for the full fiscal year climbed about 28% as the company saw moderate overall volume increases but strong year-over-year price increases across the board. In addition to the top-line growth, BHP Billiton posted 53% growth in EBITDA and 89% growth in EPS for the year.

Once again, metals were strong contributors. The base metal business saw 48% higher revenue, with copper, molybdenum, lead, zinc, and silver all fetching higher prices than they did a year ago. Results were also strong in the carbon steel and stainless steel businesses, as iron and nickel continue to perform well.

While it's generally fair to characterize BHP Billiton as a metals play, the company does have a significant petroleum business. In fact, roughly 20% of the company's pre-tax income came from petroleum this past fiscal year. While production in this area fell by about 3% because of declining output of mature fields, higher prices did boost overall revenue and profit performance.

In addition to solid earnings, BHP Billiton management offered its take on the state of the world and the commodities markets. Company executives think Europe's economy is likely to stay sickly for at least another year, but they do not believe that high commodity prices are really hurting U.S. growth yet. What's more, China continues to be a robust grower and a heavy consumer of commodities of all types.

Management did strike a note of caution, though, pointing out that commodity price increases will likely ease off. While management also noted that prices were likely to settle at historically high levels, some investors will no doubt be spooked at this suggestion that the bullish run may be flagging. Top that off with a modest dividend increase (about 8%), and I'm not all that surprised to see that the company's shares were selling off in Europe.

Though I agree that the easy money has been made in commodities, I don't believe we're at the end of the line. China and India want to grow and become prosperous, and that will mean more commodity consumption. BHP Billiton is a highly diversified player -- as are rivals Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) and Anglo American (Nasdaq: AAUK  ) -- and it's a somewhat safer option for investors who may not want to place all their money on largely single-market bets like CVRD (NYSE: RIO  ) , Inco (NYSE: N  ) , or Phelps Dodge (NYSE: PD  ) .

For more heavy metal Foolishness:

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


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