Lots of you have rightfully been looking south lately, in the general direction of Brazil, watching Petrobras (NYSE:PBR) dazzle the energy world with its big deepwater discoveries.

But Brazil is also home to a mining company that you should track carefully. If mining giant Vale (NYSE:VALE) has seen the worst of the current global downturn, its shareholders could be in for a good ride.

The past quarter was a tough one for Vale, as it was for commodities-based companies everywhere, but it was hardly a disaster. While its net earnings slid 33% from the first quarter last year to $1.4 billion, you'll still find them in the plus column. Further, quarterly EPS was $0.26, identical to the prior quarter. So the slide may be slowing.

If you're in the mood for a solid description of the world's current economic difficulties, latch onto the company's earnings release. Included is a discussion of China's economic growth and its impact on Vale's iron ore sales, which account for nearly 60% of the company's total revenues. Vale ranks among the top three in this area, along with behemoths BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) and Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP). It's also noteworthy that China went from 17% of the company's iron ore sales a year ago to almost 45% last quarter.

The company's earnings release made clear the plight of other metals, such as nickel and aluminum, the latter of which has calmed down, as shown by the results from Alcoa (NYSE:AA) and Century Aluminum (NASDAQ:CENX). From the copper conversation during the related conference call, I don't think there's much chance that Vale will buy Freeport (NYSE:FCX), a move that I've speculated about previously.

But there were noteworthy -- and relatively positive -- comments during the company's earnings call. From Vale CFO Fabio Barbosa: "We are not quietly waiting for the better times. We are working very hard to slash our cost structure in order to provide the company with the financial strength it deserves." And CEO Roger Agnelli noted that “[the market] is not recovering yet, but is not getting worse." And, also, "the first quarter I think was the bottom in terms of all kinds of problems." If we have indeed reached a bottom, as these comments indicate, does this signal a potential buying opportunity?

So gawk all you want at Petrobras. It's a terrific company that has stumbled -- or swum -- into the biggest oil finds in decades. But while you're looking toward Brazil, be sure to cast your eyes on Vale. Both Brazilian companies are worth your Foolish attention.

For related Foolishness:

Petroleo Brasileiro is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't have financial interests in any of the companies mentioned above. He does, however, welcome your questions and comments. The Fool has a molten disclosure policy.