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BHP Billiton: Commodities Powerhouse

 February 20, 2013 10:19 AM

by Stephen Leeb, editor The Complete Investor

BHP Billiton (BHP) isn't just for investors seeking income, though its 3 percent yield is certainly a lure. We think the shares will strongly outperform the market in 2013, propelled by rising commodity prices.

This makes it a stock all investors should consider to supplement their stake in the commodities area. In our view, the stock is at the starting gate of a major new uptrend.

Based in Australia, BHP by a wide margin is the world's largest commodity producer, with production and/or assets in everything from iron ore—its biggest revenue generator—to oil, coal (it's a major supplier to China), silver, and a wide variety of base metals.

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A look at the company's trajectory over the past dozen years explains why we think the stock is such a strong bet. At the 21st century's start, very few analysts (we were among the exceptions) thought commodity prices were in a long-term uptrend.

So anticipating slowing demand, BHP, along with other major commodity producers, trimmed back on plans for capital spending and kept a tight rein on costs. But lo and behold, the uptrend in commodities continued.

The upshot was burgeoning margins for BHP, an eightfold growth in profits between 2002 and 2007, and soaring gains in its share price that surpassed gains in the underlying commodities.

The situation reversed after 2007. BHP had begun implementing new capital spending programs just as the global economy was hit by the financial crisis (the inevitable lag between planning and implementation explains the timing), and the shares started to underperform.

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In the years since then, however, the company has once again slashed capital spending in reaction to the global economic weakness and the widespread belief that demand for resources would remain tepid.

Once again, we beg to disagree with the prevailing view of commodities, believing China's ongoing appetite for resources will underpin robust demand. Worth noting is that PetroChina recently announced plans to purchase assets from BHP at premium prices.

This not only will add to BHP's net asset value but also is a further indication that China's demand for resources will continue to expand. Also suggestive, BHP's P/E today based on 2013 earnings is comparable to its P/E prior to earlier commodity runs.

To sum up: we look for strong profit growth for this commodities powerhouse and a rising share price that outpaces the overall market. This outlook coupled with BHP's attractive yield makes the stock a safe and reliable way to play the resumption we foresee in the commodities bull market.



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