Miners around the world went into growth mode after a big run up in commodity prices. Now, with slowing growth in Asia and more supply than demand for many commodities, the mining industry has struggled. Although this is a tough market in which to operate, one small miner continues to make the right moves, and there are at least three solid reasons to love the company.
Growth potential and diversification
When it comes to diversified miners, Teck Resources (NYSE: TCK ) isn't the biggest player around. For example, its $13 billion market cap pales in comparison to BHP Billiton's (NYSE: BHP ) over $175 billion and even Rio Tinto's (NYSE: RIO ) roughly $100 billion. However, what Teck lacks in size it makes up for in other ways.
For example, Rio Tinto, Teck, and BHP all have diversified portfolios. Today Teck is in the coal, copper, and zinc spaces. That's not as diversified as its bigger brethren, but provides relatively broad industry exposure. However, as the small fry, Teck can grow its businesses much more easily than the giants.
That's true for existing operations, where modest improvements can result in big bottom line benefits, as well as in expansion efforts. For example, BHP spent $15 billion to buy Petrohawk Energy in 2011. That's more than Teck is worth. Although it was a quick way to gain scale, BHP had little choice but to spend like that because anything less wouldn't have been meaningful to the top and bottom lines.
Entering a new market
That contrasts against Teck's similar push into the the oil industry via mining in the Canadian oil sands. The company is partnering with key industry players and instead of having to learn a new business (oil drilling) it can use its existing expertise in mining to turn oil soaked sand into "black gold."
So, while the company has just three core businesses today, it's set to expand that to a fourth. And it is doing so in a way that will be meaningful to the top and bottom line but that won't be a huge risk operationally or financially.
Teck expects its oil operations to make it the equivalent of a mid-size Canadian oil producer when the mining is in full swing. That means about 13 million barrels of oil a year. Even for a company the size of Rio, which is about two thirds the size of BHP, that would be a waste of time. But for Teck it will be a nice portfolio expansion and a solid growth driver.
Still growing the core
Clearly, even though the entire mining industry is pulling back, Teck hasn't given up on growth. The oil expansion is one example, but so, too, were record metallurgical coal sales in the third quarter. The 7.6 million tonnes sold was a year-over-year increase of 36%. That was achieved at the same time that Teck has been able to cut costs by $300 million. That's a fraction of the $1.5 billion that Rio Tinto was able to cut in the first six months of the year. However, Rio's met coal production was down year over year.
Although one quarter and one commodity isn't going to make or break Rio Tinto, particularly coal, met coal still makes up about half of Teck's business today. So, despite the industry's weakness and cost savings efforts, Teck is clearly doing a good job of preparing for the market's inevitable upturn. That's a process that's taking place in its other businesses, too, though the results aren't as dramatic.
Lots to love
Teck has a lot to offer investors. Like BHP, it's remained solidly profitable through a very difficult industry downturn. That's a testament to the soundness of its underlying business, particularly since Rio hasn't managed the feat. And its small size provides opportunities to grow that industry giants like BHP and Rio Tinto simply wouldn't benefit from. That's showing up today as the company focuses on its core met coal franchise, but will become even more apparent as Teck moves into mining oil.
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