In my area -- and I'm sure we're not alone -- thieves are unhooking air conditioner units and making off with them, just for the increasing value of the copper inside. In fact, one large dermatology clinic has been skinned out of a couple of units during just the past month.

I'm convinced that Fools should keep abreast of copper price movements and perhaps act on them. That's not to suggest that you grab your toolbox and begin unhooking your neighbor's compressor. There are better ways to profit from the market strength of the base metal, whose prices continue to sit above $3 a pound on the New York Mercantile Exchange, despite the current softness in the U.S. housing market, our nation's primary user of copper.

A far more sensible and long-term way to benefit from copper's strength, it seems to me, is to keep your eyes on Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE:FCX), which last month completed the acquisition of Phelps Dodge, an Arizona-based copper, molybdenum, gold, and silver producer twice Freeport's size. On a pro-forma basis, according to the company, nearly four of every five dollars of revenue generated by Freeport in 2006 came from copper.

Of course, given the newness of the Phelps deal, Freeport management is still evaluating options for the company. For instance, Freeport's post-merger debt -- and after a recent $5.75 billion equity offering -- is about $12 billion, although there's also $3 billion in cash on the balance sheet.

With management focusing on delivering the balance sheet, however, it's possible that some non-core assets could be sold. While copper mining assets don't appear to be likely candidates to go, molybdenum operations seemingly could be another story. And then there's the international wire and cable business, which is unrelated to the mining activities.

For now, the copper market is being driven largely by demand growth in China and Europe, and most close observers of the metals markets expect that that market will retain its positive tone at least through this year. Indeed, the growth is not expected to be offset appreciably by softness in home and automobile sales in the U.S.

Freeport has emerged from its giant acquisition with long-lived assets, solid and proven management, and geographically diverse production. There are, of course, other ways for Foolish investors to access copper's strength, including Southern Copper (NYSE:PCU) and Australia's more diverse mining behemoth BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP). But while I can't purchase shares of Freeport because I'm telling Fools about it -- which is as it should be -- if I could, I'd consider putting a slug of the kids' college funds into the company's stock.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor David Lee Smith can only wish to own shares in the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions and comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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.