Little more than a year ago, BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) , the world's largest mining company, was trying to coax its fellow mining giant Rio Tinto (NYSE: RTP ) into a combination of the two companies. That the effort proved unsuccessful may have been a major blessing for the suitor.
The Wall Street Journal recently conducted an interview with Marius Kloppers, BHP's CEO, who began pursuing Rio after ascending to his current position. The chase was called off exactly a year ago this month, when commodity prices sank so low -- along with Rio's share price -- as to make the all-stock proposal nonsensical. And so BHP pulled its offer, and Rio spent the next several months attempting to whittle down the billions in debt it had incurred a year earlier when it beat out Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) for Canada's Alcan.
Today, BHP is a solid company -- one that hasn't had to resort to the draconian cost-cutting measures that have befallen corporations in numerous other industries. And while it doesn't currently have any fish on the line from an acquisition perspective, Kloppers appears to know precisely the type of target he'd shoot for. As he noted in the interview: "We really only want very large, low cost, export-oriented [businesses], and then only in certain products."
I have a specific suggestion: My feeling is -- and long has been -- that BHP could gobble up Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX ) , which produces copper, gold, and molybdenum. Think about it: Freeport is a large company that has lowered its costs remarkably, and it is decidedly export-oriented, thanks to demand growth from China.
And if Freeport turned out to be a non-starter, there's always Potash Corp. (NYSE: POT ) . Pain persists for the sector, and Potash Corp. sits about 58% lower than its two-year high. BHP has indicated a desire to expand into potash, but with massive barriers to entry, it may be more effective to proceed with a transformational acquisition.
Finally, don't forget that, alone among the big miners, BHP has an active oil and gas operation. There would seem to be any number of energy companies that would fit. This is purely my own speculation, but a name like Devon (NYSE: DVN ) , a solid, independent oil and gas company that operates around the world, with more prospects than it can afford to exploit, could potentially be a good fit.