Should you buy shares of BHP Billiton Limited?

Shares of BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP) have slipped a little over 1.5% today after the mining giant released its operational review for the quarter ended 30 September 2016. That comes despite a marginal increase in the price of both iron ore and oil during the latest session.

Pleasingly for investors, production and unit cost guidance remains unchanged at this point for the 2017 financial year. That said, its copper output could be impacted by the recent power outage experienced in South Australia, with guidance from its Olympic Dam operation under review.

BHP produced 4% more iron ore in the September quarter than in the June quarter, although year-on-year its production was flat. It expects to produce up to 237 million tonnes of the resource this financial year, while producing up to 210 million barrels of oil equivalent (MMboe) for the year as well.

It produced 15% less petroleum during the quarter compared to the same period one year ago, with most of the decline coming from its Onshore US assets (down 31%). Copper prdocution was also below analysts’ expectations at 355,000 tonnes.

Source: BHP report

Source: BHP report

What is encouraging for shareholders, however, was BHP’s assessment of the market itself. BHP’s Andrew Mackenzie said “we have seen early signs of markets rebalancing”, with fundamentals indicating an improvement in both oil and gas markets.

He also said: “Iron ore and metallurgical coal prices have been stronger than expected, although we continue to expect supply to grow more quickly than demand in the near term. Together, the combination of steadier markets, continued capital discipline, improved productivity and increased volumes in copper, iron ore and metallurgical coal should further support strong free cash flow generation this financial year.”

Although BHP Billiton’s shares hit rock bottom in January this year (slipping to a multi-year low of just $14.06) the miner’s shares have rebounded strongly. Indeed, they recently traded as high as $23.87, but have since retreated to $22.31.

BHP Billiton isn’t the only miner to have experienced a sharp rebound, with others including South32 Ltd (ASX: S32), Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX: FMG) and Whitehaven Coal Ltd (ASX: WHC) also surging higher during that time.

While some investors may take that as a sign to buy the miners they do need to remember that commodity prices are not guaranteed to continue rising. If they were to retreat again, shares of the miners themselves could also be hit hard, potentially sending them back to levels last seen earlier this year.

I’m not suggesting that will happen, but resources businesses are inherently reliant on the commodities they produce, and are vulnerable to negative swings in their prices. That’s something investors need to be aware of today, whereby those with a lower tolerance for risk should certainly think about taking their money elsewhere.

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Motley Fool contributor Ryan Newman 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.

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