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Investors in Teck Resources (NYSE: TCK ) may be feeling quite a buzz after the stock's incredible 16-bagger journey from the brink of outright failure, but recent rounds of earnings success have been achieved without the aid of profit-enhancing gains in coke.
Settle down, Sonny Crockett; there's no need for the vice squad here. I'm referring to the coke that Teck mines from its flagship Elk Valley coal complex in British Columbia. There has been plenty of buzz about coking coal lately, with Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU ) aggressively chasing asset purchases in Australia, and leading producers like Vale (NYSE: VALE ) discarding time-tested pricing mechanisms in anticipation of substantial tightness in global supply. Even the long seaborne journey from Appalachia to Asia has become economical under this emerging supply crunch.
For miners like Teck, the recently completed first quarter marks a turning point ... where contracts negotiated at last year's lower prices roll over into new agreements that are currently locking in more than $200 per ton. After an extended reprieve, met coal prices have finally surged back into the realm that likely prompted Teck's costly consolidation of its stake in the Elk Valley project back in the summer of 2008. With Teck's targeted 25% to 30% expansion in coal production volumes for 2010, I believe the company is about to enter a profitability sweet spot that will make long-term investors feel like they're floating in the clouds.
Teck absorbed a 60% drop in operating profit from coal with absolute ease, recording only a minute drop in comparative net earnings for the first quarter. Enabling this resilience to weaker coking coal pricing was the simultaneous doubling of realized copper and zinc prices. Teck's operating profit from zinc soared by 175% year over year, while results from copper chipped in a 104% surge of its own. Tossing in mammoth one-time gains from the sale of assets like the Waneta Dam hydroelectric project, Teck's bottom line actually tripled to reach $908 million.
A flood of additional achievements and milestones is adding excitement to those coked-up coking coal prospects. Teck is ramping up production from a major expansion project at the Andacollo copper mine in Chile, with major royalty holder Royal Gold (Nasdaq: RGLD ) poised to rake in the cash from by-product gold. Debt-wary investors will delight in noting Teck's full repayment of the $9.8 billion in short-term debt incurred for the Fording transaction. That milestone was reached just this week, and apparently the company celebrated by restoring its dividend.
Finally, this Fool notes with interest that Teck and joint venture partner NovaGold Resources (AMEX: NG ) have finally resuscitated the long-frozen process of reassessing feasibility at the Galore Creek project. Teck is keenly interested in the deposit's 9 billion pounds of estimated copper resources, but clearly the coincident treasure of 123 million ounces of silver and 7.3 million ounces of gold could render both partners giddy in profitable inebriation.
Not only has Teck returned from the brink of its own destruction, but the company has surged into a position of enviable strength on several simultaneous fronts. I consider the company a terrific long-term hold and look forward to reporting many quarters of coked-up returns.