It’s been a great year to be heavily invested in Australian mining companies. Not only have many companies delivered terrific operational performances, but most commodity prices have supported rising share prices and, therefore, happy shareholders.

3 mining stocks with massive returns this year

Resolute Mining Limited (ASX: RSG) has been the undisputed champion of mining companies this year, improving 610% from 25 cents to a close of $1.77 on Friday. The performance has come about due to a sharp turnaround in operational performance and some impressive drilling results that have made shareholders excited about the future.

Mineral Resources Limited (ASX: MIN) shares have improved (a slightly less impressive) 180% since January 1, boosted by the improving iron ore price and the company’s exposure to lithium. Mineral Resources’ Mt Marion lithium project in Western Australia will ship its first lithium to China-based Ganfeng Lithium this month. It also continues to produce iron ore. For the share price to improve further from here we will need the iron ore price to remain strong and, longer term, demand for electric batteries to continue to improve so that the lithium price is at least stable.

Finally, one of the more surprising performers this year has been Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX: FMG). Fortescue’s share price has returned above $5 for the first time since mid 2014 and could be set to head back towards $6 if the iron ore price remains between $US50 and $US60 per tonne. Fortescue’s recovery has come about through a three-step process; 1) it cut costs, 2) it focussed on operational efficiency, and 3) it paid down debt. The debt consolidation and reduction appears to have gathered pace in the last 12 months, however like we’ve seen with BHP Billiton Limited’s (ASX: BHP) operations in South America, risks remain and no one can predict the direction of the iron ore price.

Where to from here?

It seems to me that over the last decade or so it’s been a rare occurrence for mining companies to perform well two years in a row. I’d keep a sharp eye on macro trends from here as commodity prices will heavily influence share prices from here.

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Motley Fool contributor Andrew Mudie has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.