Freeport-McMoRan Surprises With Split, Dividend

Dec.13.10 | About: CurrencyShares Canadian (FXC)

The business of selling copper to China is even better than expected for Freeport-McMoRan (NYSEARCA:FXC), one of the world's leading miners and especially prominent as a player in the copper markets.

FXC pleased investors today by announcing a special one-time $1 dividend and a two-for-one stock split as a way to return excess cash to shareholders.

With copper demand rising and supply tight, the metal is hitting new records over $9,000 a ton.

FCX spends about $2,000 a ton to produce that metal, which means it is earning over $3 in free cash flow for every pound of copper it digs up.

Today's dividend will deliver about $437 million of that roughly $2.9 billion in annual cash flow back to shareholders while leaving the company plenty of money to fuel expansion.

Unlike a rival like Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO), which is carrying substantial debt, FCX is practically debt-free and so can also make acquisitions on credit as it finds opportunities.

But in the meantime, this is big news in a crowded trade and will encourage even more investment in commodity names from crossover players. This kind of dividend -- if it is the taste of things to come -- can only get the income-oriented traders interested.

However, the cash-strapped names like RIO and, to slightly less prominent extent, Anglo American (thinly traded here as (OTCPK:AAUKF) and Xtrata (OTC:XSRAY) , will probably have a hard time keeping up with FCX, (NYSE:VALE) and BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP) in the dividend world.

As always, there will be winners and losers.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.