Freeport-McMoRan: Solid Gold?

When we finish talking about Freeport-McMoRan's (NYSE: FCX  ) quarterly results, you may agree that the company is an opportunity worth looking into. I bet you'll also agree that even though this wasn't the company's best quarter, Tuesday's thumping of the company's shares wasn't completely justified, either.

Freeport's earnings slumped by about 14% to $947 million, or $2.25 a share, from $1.1 billion, or $2.62, a year earlier. It didn't help that analysts' expectations had been closer to $2.46.

The biggest reason for the decline involved "sequencing" at the company's big Grasberg mine in Papua, Indonesia. That simply means that a mine is being opened in stages. But when that happens -- and it does to the likes of Southern Copper (NYSE: PCU  ) as well -- the company occasionally finds that it's mining a somewhat lower-quality ore, and total output suffers as a result. Largely for that reason, production volumes for copper and gold declined in Freeport's quarter.

But evaluating quarterly results is always an exercise in rearview-mirror navigation. The picture out front matters most. For starters, Freeport is a monster in copper production, and copper demand and prices have remained strong, as have gold and molybdenum prices. In fact, copper prices today are about four times what they were just five years ago. That change has largely come from a doubling of demand for the metal in China since 2001.

Beyond that, there are other things to like about Freeport:

  • It has geographically diverse, long-lived reserves that will benefit from development projects being conducted in North and South America, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • It has a single-digit forward price-to-earnings ratio.
  • It has reduced debt by $10 billion since it acquired Phelps Dodge 18 months ago.
  • It could become a gleam in the eye of one of the mining big three: BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP  ) , Vale (NYSE: RIO  ) , or Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP  ) .
  • Management expects that 2008 will be a back-end-loaded year. It currently looks as though about 55% of copper sales and 62% of gold sales will occur in the second half of the year.

So with the market having taken Freeport to the woodshed on Tuesday, I'm betting that some of my Foolish friends will now examine it as a new buying opportunity.   

Five-star-rated Freeport counts more than 3,900 Motley Fool CAPS players as bullish about its prospects. Wouldn't you like to help move the bar one way or the other?

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does welcome your questions, comments, and concerns. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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