It may be just as well that overseas companies typically don't report quarterly earnings. Rio Tinto's (NYSE: RTP) latest results have even the business scribes scratching their heads.

For instance, should we look at the company's "record underlying earnings," or simply its net earnings, in assessing its results for the second half of 2007? Underlying earnings are pretty much what we'd refer to as earnings from continuing operations, since they exclude most one-time items.

So although Rio Tinto's net earnings fell about 2% from last year, its underlying earnings, with the funny stuff blown out, were a percentage point higher than in the same period in 2006, at $7.44 billion. And if you take your analysis to yet another level of operating purity, underlying earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) increased by 11% in the second half of 2007.

But the real intrigue surrounding the company continues to involve its efforts to avoid the clutches of its larger, Melbourne-based rival BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP). With its attractive position in the mining and production of a host of metals that are increasingly in demand, including iron ore and aluminum, Rio Tinto has attracted a good deal of attention lately. In fact, Pittsburgh-based Alcoa (NYSE: AA) and state-owned Aluminum Corp. of China (NYSE: ACH) --- recently teamed up to acquire a 12% stake in the company.

I'm not certain that a BHP-Rio Tinto deal will happen. But I'm less convinced that a higher joint bid from BHP and the world's second-largest mining company, Brazil's Vale (NYSE: RIO) -- a rumored possibility last summer -- is completely out of the question.

The continuing chase could be both lengthy and intriguing. In the meantime, I think that in our world of skyrocketing demand for all manner of resources, Fools would be well advised to direct their attention to the other companies I've mentioned here today.

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Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He does, however, welcome comments, questions, or Valentine chocolates. The Fool has a disclosure policy.