The two mining monsters are near-identical from a distance, but dig into their operations and you’ll find one crucial difference that probably explains BHP Billiton‘s (LSE: BLT) recent underperformance compared to Rio Tinto‘s (LSE: RIO).

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Owain Bennallack owns shares of BHP Billiton. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Rio Tinto. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.