What happened

Shares of copper miner Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) are in freefall after the company reported fiscal fourth-quarter and full-year 2018 earnings this morning. They're down 11.3% as of 2:35 p.m. EST.

The reason: Freeport reported only $0.09 per share in Q4 profits, or $0.11 "adjusted" for one-time gains. Whichever number you favor, Freeport earned only about half the $0.21-per-share profit that Wall Street had estimated for it. Sales for the quarter -- $3.68 billion -- likewise fell short of the Street's $3.85 billion target.

Copper-mine tunnel with a rail cart

Freeport stock miners are not exactly striking it rich today. Image source: Getty Images.

So what

It gets worse.

Compared to last year's Q4 results, Freeport saw sales decline 26% year over year, with profits from "continuing operations" down an astounding 87%. Operating cash flow, $1.65 billion a year ago, turned negative in Q4 2018. Capital spending spiked nearly 50% higher, resulting in negative free cash flow of $642 million for the quarter.

The good news is that for the year as a whole, Freeport did quite a bit better, with sales rising 13% in 2018 versus 2017, and profits per share up 29% to $1.56. (Free cash flow still declined -- down 42% to $1.9 billion for the year.)

Now what

Freeport did not give specific guidance for 2019 earnings in its report. However, TheFly.com reports that, on the company's post-earnings conference call, Freeport CEO Richard Adkerson struck an optimistic note: He said the copper market "looks good," and predicted that sales of copper ore will hold steady at about 3.3 billion pounds this year, then grow to 3.5 billion pounds in 2020 and 4.2 billion pounds in 2021.

For what it's worth, though, analysts think that will translate into only about $0.77 per share in earnings this year on sales of $14.9 billion -- down 20% year over year.

Check out the latest Freeport-McMoRan earnings call transcript.