What happened

As recently as September, executives at gold miner Barrick Gold (NYSE:GOLD), with its market capitalization of $35 billion, were speaking publicly about their desire to acquire copper and gold miner Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), with its market cap of $55 billion.  

That deal now appears unlikely to happen, and in response to the news, Freeport stock was 9.2% higher at 2:15 p.m. EST today, while Barrick stock had lost 2.8%.

Red arrow goes down and green arrow goes up

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

In September, Reuters reported that Barrick wanted to buy part or even all of Freeport, hoping to get hold of the world's largest copper mine in the process. But Freeport was said to be uninterested, and Barrick had not made an official offer. Now it seems it will not make an offer at all.

Global copper prices have roughly doubled over the past year, rising from a nadir near $2.10 last March to yesterday's close at $3.90 per pound, helping Freeport's stock price to nearly triple over the past year. Meanwhile, Barrick's shares were down 5% from a year ago.  

Acknowledging these dynamics in market valuation, Barrick CEO Mark Bristow told Bloomberg News today that he thinks Barrick may have missed its chance to acquire Freeport at an attractive valuation, for the time being at least. Barrick shareholders today seem disappointed, but Freeport investors seem relieved they won't get acquired by an underperforming stock.  

Now what

But with cyclical commodity companies, what's true today might no longer be true a year or more from now -- if, for example, gold gets more valuable over time and copper less so.

Barrick seems to be thinking along these lines, too, with Bristow adding, "We'll step back and maybe there'll be other opportunities." Barrick might decide to buy somebody else or simply bide its time until Freeport stock gets cheap again.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.