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Freeport McMoRan's


earnings almost doubled in the first quarter from the year earlier, thanks to soaring gold and copper prices.

The New Orleans-based mining giant posted first-quarter earnings of $251.7 million, or $1.23 per share, compared with $130.4 million, or 70 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. The latest quarter had charges totaling 21 cents a share related to debt redemption and stock-options expense.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of 88 cents a share in the 2006 first quarter.

Revenue grew to $1.09 billion from $803.1 million the year-earlier period, compared with analysts' expectations for $855.2 million.

The company also said it expects to sell 1.3 billion pounds of copper and 1.7 million ounces of gold this year from its Indonesian mining operations. This would include 280 million pounds of copper and 275,000 ounces of gold in the second quarter.

The forecast matches the company's five-year average annual target for copper, but it falls short of its target of 1.9 million ounces of gold.

Freeport shares still jumped sharply after the report and were recently gaining 5.9% to trade at $69.05, a new all-time high.

Freeport's Indonesian operations have been the subject of a controversy that has intensified in recent weeks. Protestors and social activists say that its huge Grasberg gold and copper mine is hurting the environment and that the company is not contributing to local development. The company also had to shut down operations for three days in February amid clashes between protestors and its security personnel.

In March, a government study found faults in Freeport's environmental practices.

The stock has nonetheless breached new highs recently, amid soaring gold and copper prices. Freeport also got a lift Monday after news that Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono refused to give in to the demands of protesters who want to close Freeport's huge ore mine.

Yet, mostly because of the environmental problems, Morningstar keeps an "above-average" risk rating on the company and a fair value estimate of $38 on its shares. "We agree with management's description of Grasberg as a blessing and a curse," writes analyst Parvathy Krishnan.