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Freeport Rides Metals Prices to a Solid Quarter

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This is turning out to be a humdinger of an earnings season, with one company after another checking in with significant earnings improvements.

On Thursday, Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX  ) told us about a 27% increase in earnings for the quarter. The company's income for the most recent quarter reached $1.18 billion, or $2.49 per share, compared with $925 million, or $2.07 a share in the same quarter of 2009. Revenues were also up nicely at $5.15 billion, or 24% higher than last year's number.

Analysts who follow the company had formed a consensus estimate of $2.25 in per-share earnings on revenues of $4.74 billion. As such, it looks like we have another solid beat to add to the quarter's list. The quarter's success resulted in an annual dividend increase to $2 a share, from the previous $1.20.

Looking at the individual metals produced by Freeport, copper sales reached 1.1 billion pounds. The increase from the 1.0 billion pounds sold a year earlier was tied to higher ore grades and mill throughput in South America, higher volumes at the Grasberg project in Indonesia, and increased production from Africa.

More importantly, the average copper price realization increased from $2.75 in the third quarter of 2009 to $3.50 per pound. The price hike relates largely to increasing -- and unfulfilled -- demand in China and India.

Gold sales slipped to 497,000 ounces, versus 706,000 ounces a year earlier. However, the average realized price per ounce increased by $279 year over year.

And molybdenum (or moly), which is used to harden steel, saw its sales increase to 17 million pounds, a million pounds more than a year ago. Further, its average realized price hit $16.06 per pound, up from last year's $13.95. So given Freeport's results, I'm eager for news from the likes of copper and gold producer Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM  ) , as well as Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY  ) , and Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX  ) , all of which have yet to report.

Finally, Congo has approved Freeport's Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine license. Under new terms, the government will have its stake in the mine increased from 17.5% to 20%. It is unclear how Freeport's 57.75% share and Lundin Mining's (NYSE: LMC  ) 24.75% interests will change. Other terms agreed to are payments by the government for copper reserves above 2.5 million tons, along with six installment payments totaling $30 million when designated production milestones are met.

I've been a fan or Freeport at least since its 2007 acquisition of the larger Phelps Dodge. The company's latest results have done nothing to diminish that sentiment, something I hope is shared by my Foolish friends. 

Looking for a shiny investment suggestion? Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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