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Metals drive Freeport-McMoRan profit Add to ...

Here's Allan Robinson's At The Bell which you'll find in tomorrow's newspaper: The shares of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. , like the prices of the two commodities it produces, are near their record high. Yesterday, Lehman Brothers Inc. raised its share price target on Freeport to $200 (U.S.) from $130 following an increase in its copper price forecasts, according to Bloomberg. The shares closed yesterday at $118.65 after setting a new 52-week high of $121.28. WHAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON Freeport, which is scheduled to report its first-quarter results today, is forecast to have earned $2.12 a share during the first quarter, compared with $2.02 a share a year earlier, according to Thomson First Call. Its profit for 2008 is forecast to increase 8 per cent to $10.61 and analysts look for 2009 earnings to be up 13 per cent to $11.95 a share. The U.S. slowdown has had little or no effect on commodity prices and copper is no exception. Analysts also expect strong demand from emerging markets will also offset a possible slowdown in countries comprising the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development. John Redstone, an analyst with Desjardins Securities, forecasts copper prices will average $3.50 (U.S.) a pound in 2008 and $4 in 2009. Copper traded yesterday at $3.99 a pound on the London Metal Exchange. Analysts are also looking for a pickup in copper and gold production at the Grasberg mine in Indonesia and Safford mine in Arizona in the second half of 2008. "We expect approximately 60 per cent of Freeport's earnings to be generated in the second half due to production volumes below normal operating levels in the first six months of the year," according to Deutsche Bank Securities Ltd. Freeport is the second largest global copper producer after state-owned Codelco of Chile, but ahead of competitors like BHP Billiton Ltd., Xstrata Plc, Rio Tinto PLC and Anglo American PLC, according to Bloomberg. Copper is expected to account for about 80 per cent of Freeport's forecast 2008 revenue of $21-billion (U.S.). Deutsche Bank said that Freeport's capital spending program on several mines should peak this year at $2.4-billion and total about $5.2-billion by 2010 before declining to a maintenance level of $800-million from 2012. Freeport could generate about $6.6-billion in cash flow in 2008, said Deutsche Bank.

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