NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As copper prices shot to another record high amid an ongoing boom in commodities of all kinds, the cyclical shares of metals and mining concerns were in the green on Monday.

Three behemoths in the sector --

BHP Billiton

(BHP) - Get Report


Rio Tinto

(RIO) - Get Report



(VALE) - Get Report

-- will announce their 2010 results this week and next, and all are expected to report all-time-high earnings.

The reason, of course, is China, which has continued to gobble up raw materials at a pace that has driven commodities prices higher around the world.

That's especially the case for copper and iron ore. On Monday, copper on the London Metals Exchange surpassed $10,100 per metric ton, a new high. In trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange Monday morning, the March futures contract for the red metal rose 3 cents to $4.60.

Shares of copper giant

Freeport McMoRan

(FCX) - Get Report

were up 1% to $57.40. The stock touched a

52-week peak in mid January

, having more than doubled in value during the last half of 2010.

It was an eventful year for the miners, especially when it to comes to iron ore. The three major global producers of this crucial steel ingredient were able to change

the way the mineral is priced

on the world market. Instead of signing annual supply contracts with the biggest steelmakers in Asia, the miners were able to pressure their customers into shifting to shorter-term deals, three months at a time, linking the price of iron ore to the spot market.

Aussie Miners OK Even If China Slows

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During times of commodity inflation -- like right now -- the new contract regime benefits miners.

Meanwhile, shareholders have been demonstrating angst about the cash hordes amassed by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto in particular, fed up by the megadeals both have pursued in the past (including, indeed, their failed combination several years ago.)

Most recently, BHP lost in its

$40 billion pursuit

of fertilizer producer

Potash Corp.


. And Rio Tinto nearly bankrupted itself when it acquired Canada's


just before the financial crisis. Only a surge in iron ore prices because of China's insatiable thirst for raw materials saved Rio Tinto.

Some analysts are predicting that the companies will announce share buybacks of about $5 billion apiece as a way to return profits to shareholders.

In New York trading, BHP's stock was gaining 1% to $95.13, while Rio Tinto was rising 2.3% to $74.83.

Brazil's Vale was rising 0.3% to $34.49 after earlier trading in the red.

Rio Tinto and Vale are scheduled to report results on Thursday. BHP is set for next week, on Feb. 16.

Underscoring how lucrative mining has become, the fortunes of Australia's two wealthiest people, according to


recently released Down Under rich list, are based on iron ore: Gina Rinehart, the daughter of the man who basically discovered the Pilbara iron-ore region in Western Australia, and Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, the iron ore baron and founder of

Fortescue Metals



>>Aussie Cyclone Imperils Mines

>>Aussie Coal Mining Washed Out by Floods

>>Potash-BHP in Pictures: The M&A Drama of 2010

>>Freeport McMoRan Rides Copper's Rise

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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