Freeport-McMoran's stock has slipped since touching a 52-week high earlier in the week following some positive headway in the company's dispute with Indonesia over the taxation of copper exports.
On July 23, the company released its earnings, which were a beat on both EPS and revenue, but the result was not enough to encourage investors to bid the stock up any higher.
In reading Freeport-McMoRan's full earnings and listening to the content of the conference call, there is more to the story than just the fact that the company's revenue was $5.52 billion and its earnings were $0.58 per share. Contained in the earnings were some fundamental changes the company is undergoing that will create long-term value for the company.
1. Debt reduction
Freeport-McMoRan took on some fairly hefty debt in order to fund its goal of entering the energy sector. The purchase of two oil companies last year meant Freeport's debt skyrocketed to $20 billion from $3.5 billion. This debt has likely been a negative force on the company's stock. Freeport leadership knows this and is targeting a reduction of its debt burden to $12 billion by 2016. In order to reduce the debt burden, Freeport plans to sell onshore assets with lower growth potential.
Freeport recently entered the oil and gas industry, following years of focusing primarily on copper. Right now, Freeport's leadership sees a focus on assets in the Gulf of Mexico as a means for faster growth and better returns.
The company's expansion into the oil and gas industry is a long-term positive for a couple of reasons. For one, the very reason Freeport's leadership decided to make the sector a pillar of growth is because they saw it as an economically fruitful expansion beyond copper. Freeport has spent a great deal of capital trying to increase its copper production, and even though these attempts have been fairly successful, leadership saw the potential returns in oil and gas and decided to diversify.
The diversification is not just a fundamental benefit for the company; I think it will provide sentimental advantages as well. Over the past, Freeport's stock was so focused on copper that it was top-of-mind for many investors. This has the potential to contribute to volatility. If copper prices go up, it may be the first stock people think of, and perhaps buy. When copper prices go down, many investors normally run for the exits. Now that Freeport is becoming a diversified miner, it may experience less panic buying and selling.
3. Indonesian exports to resume
Freeport's stock has seen some downside pressure this year after a dispute with the Indonesian government over the introduction of a progressive tax on its copper concentrate exports in the country led to Freeport halting its exports. On July 25 it was announced that Freeport had reached a deal with the Indonesian government that will result in the company resuming its copper concentrate exports "immediately."
Even though the deal involves Freeport paying higher royalties, the ongoing dispute has been a negative pressure on the company's stock, and its resolution will provide some upside momentum. Freeport's largest mine, the Grasberg complex, is located in Indonesia.