They're at it again. Or perhaps they never really quit. I'm referring to the thieves filching copper for its scrap value from virtually anything containing the red metal. While the thefts are an obvious and costly nuisance, they're also something of an indicator of the value inherent in owning shares of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold
With our unemployment rate remaining at nosebleed levels, the chances taken in pulling off the heists may seem worth it for the perpetrators. In California, for instance, one person who had adopted a vocation copping copper cashed checks totaling $78,000. This summer, in Brisbane, Australia, rail transportation was bollixed by copper thefts to the extent that a number of stations had to be closed for repairs. So, if you'd intended to use the Moolooah station, for instance, you may have had to stop at Gympie North, a daunting thought in itself.
And in the same area, a homeless man appeared in court last month charged with 90 offenses relating to the theft of copper wire. It's likely that local officials immediately provided a roof over his head.
Hanging 'em high
The key to the copper kleptomania -- along with the attractiveness of Freeport, and to a somewhat lesser extent, the likes of Newmont Mining
For instance, the U.S. housing market, a major user of copper, appears to be in the very early stages of regaining its sea legs. Sales of previously owned homes hit a two-year high in August, and new construction numbers have been at least moderately encouraging. In addition, London Metal Exchange copper inventories are at low levels, and a Southern Copper
With that array of positives as a foundation, I urge Fools to take a gander at Freeport. The largest publicly owned copper company is also a major gold supplier, along with being the world's biggest producer of molybdenum, a key component in the strengthening of steel.
I've noted in the past that Freeport is the holder of long-lived, geographically diverse assets, but those characterizations are far more than just talking points. The company's key facility -- and the locus of most of its gold production -- is its Grasberg facility in Papua, Indonesia. The operation was beset by significant labor difficulties during the last half of 2011 and into this year (and the Indonesian government is proving to be newly recalcitrant), but Freeport's production essentially has returned to normal. Furthermore, the company, which owns 90% of PT Freeport Indonesia, is progressively adding an underground operation that will permit it to access bodies of high-grade ore beneath its open pit.
Closer to its Phoenix headquarters, the company operates seven open-pit copper mines in Arizona and New Mexico. As in Indonesia, most of these facilities are undergoing expansion. Also in the U.S., it produces molybdenum at its wholly owned Henderson underground mine and its Climax open-pit mine, both in Colorado. Molybdenum is also generally retrieved as a byproduct at the copper mines.
In South America, the company operates three copper mines in Chile and another in Peru. And, if it isn't becoming repetitious, those facilities are generally undergoing expansionary programs.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Freeport's Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mining operation has a rated capacity of 8,000 metric tons of ore per day, but its real output is currently approaching 13,000 tons daily. The addition of a second phase to the still relatively new facility will boost its capacity to 14,000 tons, although if the past is prelude, actual output levels will exceed that target substantially.
A tough team to top
And then there's Freeport's management. The strength of the team at the top is always difficult to quantify for any company. As an erstwhile securities analyst I'm a perpetual management freak. The Freeport team has clearly done yeoman's work in, for instance, bringing Tenke on line and acquiring Phelps Dodge when it was a competitor twice Freeport's size. When the purchase occurred, slightly more than five years ago, Freeport-McMoRan's debt ballooned to a portly $17.6 billion. Today, despite the capital-intensive nature of its business and its plethora of expansion efforts, the company is net debt free.
The Foolish bottom line
I also remain a fan of mining and energy giant BHP Billiton
With all this in mind, I wouldn't for a minute discourage you from placing shares of Freeport-McMoRan into your portfolio. You also owe it to yourself to add the company to My Watchlist.