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Do Strong Freeport Earnings Suggest Growth In Basic Materials?

This also comes at a time when the firm is actively reducing its capital expenditures (capex). Freeport wants to reduce capex by $1.9 billion this year. In the third quarter, capex was $1.6 billion.

Freeport expects capex to be $5.5 billion for 2013 with about a quarter of that to be spent on oil and gas operations (between June 1 and December 31 2013). That is a sizable portion, while projects at mining operations will cost $2.4 billion.

It's all about diversity

In an age when some commodity prices are fluctuating wildly, diversification is key. Since miners rely on high industrial output and construction to create a market for their goods – it's also important to pay attention where a company exports. One of the biggest miners in the world, Vale SA (VALE) exports almost half of its goods to China alone.

Click on the interactive chart to see data over time. 

Freeport’s diversification into oil and gas is starting to show signs of success. Revenue is higher compared to the previous year, and earnings are not as weak as investors feared. Freeport raised its debt levels, but has a healthy cash flow forecast that will likely be met to keep the balance sheet healthy. 

Bringing it all together

Investors already bid shares higher, pricing in the solid quarter and outlook. With the exception of Freeport, many miners are down this week. If prices continue to remain flat, or worse, fall – commodities companies could be in for a difficult year in 2014. And the short term fate Chinese economy will have a huge impact on share prices. 

Taken together, there are many intangibles that make raw material stocks look volatile right now. Investors may want to wait for a greater pullback before increasing positions in one of these companies. 

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