Have you noticed how an earnings headline can distort the real results turned in by companies? Take BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP), the world's largest mining company, for example.

If you looked solely at some of the media reports for BHP's release this week of its annual results, you'd quickly be convinced that, based on the focus on its 62% drop in earnings, the company turned in a stinker of a year. But the crazy commodity environment, its operating accomplishments, and a 5.9% increase in operating cash flow to a new record make it appear both lucky and smart. That's a rare combination these days.

BHP’s luck resulted from its inability to successfully acquire Anglo-Australian rival Rio Tinto (NYSE:RTP), an effort that, had it worked, likely would have done major damage to BHP's quality balance sheet. As it is now, BHP looks strong as a proverbial ox, while Rio Tinto, which had purchased Canada's Alcan, has had to scramble for the funds to pay down its own groaning debt load.

The smart part is attributable to BHP having completed six major projects, despite being forced to operate amid the year's commodities roller coaster. One of the projects was in manganese and the other five were in petroleum. Beyond that, an alumina refinery initiated production in Brazil last month after the fiscal year was completed. And this year, the company will be one-armed-paper-hanger busy with projects in iron ore -- including its joint venture with Rio Tinto -- as well as coal, oil, gas.

I judge BHP’s exposure to energy, especially oil, to be a strength, both now and almost certainly in the future. It's a claim that most of its major competitors, including Rio, Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), Southern Copper (NYSE:PCU), can't make. In fact, only Brazil's Vale (NYSE:VALE) is also involved in petroleum.

So given what I believe was a highly successful year for BHP, I suggest that my Foolish friends scoop up a few shares of this big and successful company. That would be a smart move and likely a lucky one as well.

BHP Billiton has been accorded four stars by Motley Fool CAPS players. Why not add your vote to the company's rating?

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He welcomes your comments, questions, or golf tips. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.