There's nothing like a near-death experience to make you appreciate life's bounty.
After seeing its corporate life flash before its eyes in a maelstrom of excessive debt and crashing commodity prices, Teck Resources (NYSE: TCK ) has emerged from the edge of oblivion with a certain skip in its step.
Furthering a triumphant return, Teck earned $564 million in the third quarter, surpassing the prior-year result by nearly 13% on a per-share basis. Although the $9.8 billion in debt incurred to consolidate ownership of the Elk Valley coal project nearly dealt a fatal blow to Teck, noteworthy strength in global metallurgical coal demand has brought prices roaring back to life in a way that relieves the strain of Teck's remaining burden. While prices remain well below their 2008 highs, the increased volumes associated with Teck's full ownership of Elk Valley helped to feed a 24% increase in consolidated revenue.
Also contributing to the relative windfall was a spate of positive pricing adjustments to copper and zinc sales booked earlier in the year.
As coal giant Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU ) reported last week, China has imported 10 times the volume of met coal year-to-date than it had in the comparable 2008 period. Peabody announced plans to double Australian production over the next five years, and I expect Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF ) to focus growth efforts there as well. Even Appalachian miners are getting in on the action, with Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX ) announcing a watershed commitment to ship product to China. Patriot CEO Richard Whiting observed a broader uptick in U.S. met coal exports to China in recent months, and he also sees "demand outstripping supply and therefore driving up met pricing as we move into and through 2010." Since tunneling through the center of the earth could be cost-prohibitive, dry bulk shippers will welcome the trend.
This demand environment is great news for Teck, since Elk Valley, located in British Columbia, is positioned far more favorably than Appalachia as a trade route to China. In its third-quarter release, Teck stressed the importance of railroad rate agreements secured with competing haulers Canadian National Railway (NYSE: CNI ) and Canadian Pacific Railway (NYSE: CP ) in facilitating low-cost movement of product to nearby export hubs.
Thanks to a timely $1.5 billion investment by China's sovereign wealth fund, Teck Resources finally seems to have that debt burden under some control. In addition to the $3.7 billion in debt that the company has managed to repay since the Elk Valley consolidation, a further $1.3 billion in debt relief has resulted from the U.S. dollar's dubious retreat. Still, considering that there's substantial debt of approximately $8 billion remaining on Teck's books, Fools are reminded not to throw caution to the wind.
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