Looking for a Copper-Coated Revenue Runway?

As you've probably heard, Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX  ) is moving to diversify away from its core copper business. The company's $9 billion acquisition of McMoRan Exploration (NYSE: MMR  ) and Plains Exploration & Production (UNKNOWN: PXP.DL2  ) will dramatically alter the company's revenue pie. That being said, the company has some very important projects under way that should enable it to keep its title as the largest publicly traded copper producer.

Freeport-McMoRan has stated on a number of occasions that it sees limited opportunities to invest in copper beyond its current brownfield expansion opportunities. World-class copper discoveries are very rare and expensive to develop. While the lack of compelling greenfield opportunities has spurred the move into oil and gas exploration, the company is still expected to grow copper revenue over the next few years.

Looking ahead, Freeport-McMoRan sees average volume growth of 20% in 2013 and 2014 over 2012 levels. That'll taper off a bit as volume growth is expected to average 15% in 2015 and 2016 over those levels. That growth will largely come from three expansion projects currently under development. 

Cerro Verde expansion in South America
Freeport-McMoRan is working to expand copper production by up to 600 million (MM) pounds per year at this mine. Engineering is 55% complete on the project, with construction expected to commence this year. The $4.4 billion project is expected to achieve a full production rate by 2016.

Morenci expansion in North America
Concrete and steel construction is under way on this project, which will expand copper production by up to 225MM lbs/year. The company is spending $1.4 billion to develop the project, which it expects to contribute at the foreseen production rate by 2014.

Tenke Fungurume expansion in Africa
Freeport-McMoRan and its partners are putting the final touches on a project that will add 150MM additional annual pounds of copper production. The project is both on time and within its $0.9 billion budget, which is a major achievement given the recent string of cost overruns hitting the mining industry. If the timeline holds, expect full rates of production to be online sometime in 2013.

These growth projects, when combined with its base production, will keep the company's fortunes closely tied to the mining industry despite the recent moves to diversify into oil and gas. That diversification will see revenue shift from 100% mining related in 2012 to a 74%/26% split between mining and oil and gas revenues in 2013. That level is slightly above the 20% of revenue that fellow diversified miner BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP  ) sees from its energy production business. 

The recent slowdown in China's growth rate has made it tough to justify new copper investments. Because of this, BHP is still trying to decide what to do with its own Olympic Dam expansion plans. While Freeport-McMoRan is joining BHP Billiton by diversifying into energy production, it still sees a copper-coated revenue runway as we head into the next few years.

What makes FCX the copper bellwether that is today?
After putting together a blockbuster deal to expand into the oil and natural gas industry, Freeport-McMoRan will have plenty on its plate as it tries to adapt to the new industry, as expanding into oil and gas carries plenty of inherent volatility. FCX had a profitable copper business, and on top of this foray into a new industry it still has to contend with mining industry bellwether BHP Billiton. To help investors determine if Freeport-McMoRan is a buy or a sell, we've compiled a brand-new premium report on the company! Click here now to gain instant access!


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