Timing is everything. Just ask Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. In March 2007, the mega-mining company pulled off an extraordinary merger with a much larger mining company, one that required financing the $18.5 billion cash component of the total $26 billion acquisition price to buy Phelps Dodge Corp. "We moved quickly and seized the moment," says Kathleen Quirk, executive vice president and CFO of Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan.

They sure did. When the merger was finalized, it was the largest transaction ever in the mining industry's history. In early 2007, Freeport-McMoRan (FCX), despite a position as one of the world's top mining operations, was limited by its position owning but a single mine, albeit one of the best in the world. Located in Indonesia, the Grasberg copper and gold mine constrained the valuation of FCX's stock and contributed a perception of higher risk among creditors. "Our share price was affected by the perceived political risk of having just a single asset in Indonesia," Quirk explains.

Phelps Dodge Corp. offered a portfolio of geographically diverse copper mining operations from the United States to South America to a development project in Africa, although none of them matched the deposit size of Grasberg. In short, the two companies matched up well, asset-wise. "We had strong shareholder support from both companies," says Quirk. "We realized we could both grow more aggressively together than we could apart."

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