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Australia's resource plays: Here are experts' top picks

As Australia's mining space grapples with slowing growth in China and weakening commodity prices, an exclusive poll of analysts conducted by CNBC has unearthed some diamonds in the rough, for those looking at increasing or gaining exposure to the resources sector.

Big miners

Analysts tell CNBC the top-tier miners listed in Australia still present good value and four analysts out of ten have BHP Billiton ranked as one of their top plays citing the miner's diversity across a broad suite of commodities.

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Matthew Hodge, Resources Analyst at Morningstar says BHP's competitive edge, diversification and low cost positions in a number of key commodity segments, particularly iron ore make it an attractive proposition.

Financial research firms Morningstar and Equity Trustees have price targets of A$44.00 ($40.70) and A$43.00, respectively, on the stock, while Fairmont Equities thinks the BHP shares could go as high as A$42.00 each.

Hodge from Morningstar adds that expectations BHP will begin to return cash to shareholders also makes the stock attractive. The miner has already flagged capital returns once its debt pile is reduced and investors now face the prospect of the miner spinning off its non-core assets.

Iluka Resources' Douglas mineral sands mine operation in Douglas, north of Hamilton, Australia
Carla Gottgens | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Iluka Resources' Douglas mineral sands mine operation in Douglas, north of Hamilton, Australia

Analysts are less bullish on Rio Tinto given its exposure to the volatile iron ore market although two analysts say Rio is a good bet if investors are looking for a pure iron ore play. Equity Trustees has a price target on Rio Tinto of A$85.00 and Morningstar A$77.00 per share.

George Boubouras, CEO of Equity Trustees, says while China's growth concerns are a risk to Australian miners, the likelihood of a significant slowdown remains low as he anticipates a China stimulus by the middle of 2014.

Oil and gas

Analysts CNBC polled also highlighted opportunities in the oil and gas space with significant production ramp-ups expected in the coming years.

Oil Search was the most popular pick among the market watchers, with analysts noting its strong FY13 earnings and 6 percent increase in production. James Wilson, resources analyst at Morgans says production and cash flow at the firm will increase four-fold in the next year as its LNG (liquefied natural gas) project in Papua New Guinea ramps up.

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Morgans' target price on the stock is A$9.50 compared with Wednesday's close of A$8.40.

Santos was also a popular choice among those surveyed, who cited the imminent commissioning of the firm's PNG and Gladstone Liquefied natural gas facilities which will underpin growth in revenue and production.

David Lennox, resources analyst at Fat Prophets sees significant upside to the share price and has a 12-month target on the stock of A$17.38, compared to Wednesday's close of A$13.33.

Gold Stocks

Australian gold stocks have been the chronic underperformers in recent years with the sharp fall in spot gold prices. Still, analysts believe there is significant upside in the sector.

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Most notably, MineLife's senior resource analyst and founder Gavin Wendt tells CNBC that Gold Road Resources represents an exciting gold exploration play thanks to its exploration success at its Yamara Gold Project in Western Australia. He forecasts a possible three-fold increase to the company's share price, with target of A$0.45 in the next 12 months.

Something different?

Away from the usual suspects, MineLife's Wendt sees massive gains ahead for shares of graphite producer Lamboo Resources, expecting the stock to jump more than 300 percent on top of the staggering 370 percent gains so far this year.

The exploration company, which has project tenements in Northern Western Australia and South Korea, has been benefiting from expectations of a supply shortage.

MineLife has a price target on the stock of A$3.00 for 2015.

The use of graphite in fuel cells and Lithium ion batteries is expected to fuel ongoing demand for the commodity.

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