Why These Gold Miners Are The Best Investments Right Now

by: Christopher F. Davis

After writing a prior article, "Time To Pick Up The Gold Miners," I was surprised at the volume of feedback received, specifically, inquires as to which individual gold miner would be the best play in the near term. In the prior article, I recommended three gold miner ETFs to consider, primarily for those who were unsure about individual miners, but wanted to gain exposure to the sector after the recent battering it has suffered. The absolute beating the miners have suffered stems of course, in large part, from the falling price of gold. Gold prices slipped in July only to rebound in the last few days alone on increased QE3 likelihood, and possible European stimulus. Gold prices are down almost 7% from their march highs, and down nearly 30% from the highs of last year. The Gold ETF (NYSEARCA:GLD) is nearly flat on the year and also down in similar fashion with gold. With gold now back above $1,600 an ounce, and GLD above $156, the gold miners are a strong buy in my opinion. Given the volume of inquiries, the purpose of this article is to highlight my top 3 picks in the gold mining space.

Eldorado Gold (NYSE:EGO): EGO has been battered over the last few months, along with the entire mining sector. EGO had a poor Q2 result, however, I think the bottom is in and it is my top pick for the gold miners over the next 12 months. First, the Q2 numbers. Eldorado on Friday reported net income of $46.6 million, or 7 cents per share. That compared with net income of $74.9 million, or 14 cents per share, a year ago. Overall revenue fell about 3% to $244.2 million from $252.6 million. Gold sales also dropped, although the average price rose to $1,612 per ounce from $1,510 per ounce. Gold production fell 13%, while average cash operating costs rose to $480 per ounce from $397 per ounce. Eldorado reduced its 2012 forecast to 660,000 ounces of gold at average cash operating costs of $465 per ounce because of a treatment plant delay at a mine in Turkey and a delay in permitting for a mine under construction in China. That compares with the previous full-year guidance of 730,000 ounces to 775,000 ounces and cash operating costs in a range between $430 per ounce and $450 per ounce. Now that EGO has hit its bottom, I think expectations are low enough, that the stock is ready to start putting in some earnings beats and increase its stock value. First, in the longer term, EGO recently acquired European Goldfields. This has increased its production potential over the next few years significantly. It is also making progress in mines in Greece and China, which should lead to increased production. In addition, the fundamentals of the stock are strong. This company has a really good balance sheet, as it has $390 million in cash, with only $75 million in outstanding growth-oriented debt. It also trades for just a small premium to book value, which is $8.05 per share. Further, EGO offers a decent dividend of 18 cents per share, or about 1.8%. They are estimated to earn 64 cents per share this year, and 80 cents per share for 2013, representing a 25% earnings growth rate year over year. Further, Stifel Nicolaus upgraded EGO from a hold rating to a buy rating in a research note released on Monday morning. They currently have $14.50 price target on the stock.

Agnico-Eagle Mines (NYSE:AEM): AEM is my second favorite gold miner for the next 12 months. It actually was one of the better miners in its Q2. Its solid quarter is a reason that AEM is trading near its three-month high at $43.83. AEM reported quarterly net income of $43.3 million, or 25 cents per share, for Q2 of 2012.These results include a loss (mainly impairment) on available-for-sale securities of $18.3 million, or 11 cents per share, stock option expense of $7.8 million, or 5 cents per share, a non-recurring tax loss of $4.3 million, or 3 cents per share, and other non-recurring expenses of $6.2 million or 4 cents per share. These items were further dampened by a non cash foreign currency translation gain of $11.0 million, or 6 cents per share. Excluding these items would yield an adjusted net income of $68.9 million, or 40 cents per share. In the second quarter of 2011, AEM reported net income of $68.8 million, or 41 cents per share. Cash flow was strong as Q2 cash provided by operating activities was $194.1 million ($142.0 million before changes in non cash parts of working capital). This is up over 15% up from cash provided by operating activities of $162.8 million in the second quarter of 2011 ($161.7 million before changes in non-cash components of working capital). Given the company's strong YTD performance, it has received positive analyst coverage. AEM was upgraded by analysts at Scotia Capital from a sector perform rating to an outperform rating. Further, AEM was recently upgraded by analysts at Dundee from a neutral rating to a buy rating. Finally, AEM was also upgraded by analysts at UBS AG from a neutral to a buy. I think AEM is an excellent play as it is a premier gold miner.

AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU): My final pick in the gold mining space is AU. AU currently trades at $34.01, but has an average price target of $48 a share, representing nearly over 40% upside to that level. The top target is held by HSBC, whose analysts are looking for a $71 price on the stock. AU reports on August 6th, and it may be a strong quarter. AU pre-announced gold production of 1.073 million oz, which represents a 9% improvement Q1, at an estimated total cash cost of $800 per oz. This is superior than what the guidance was for the quarter of 1.04 million oz at a total cash cost of $840 per oz. This is in part due to the African and American mining operations. Gold production from South African operations improved over the period, and was 18% higher than the 2012 Q1. Adjusted headline earnings for the quarter are estimated at between $240 to $255 million. When compared with 2012 Q1, exploration and other expenditures were higher, though in line with annual guidance provided in February. All this after a lower average gold price received during the quarter compared to the previous quarter. Should QE3, which is ever more likely, come to fruition, this miner may have one of the largest percentage pops of them all. I think it's a strong buy right here.

Although these are my top picks, it is not an exhaustive list of miners that will make you money (see other gold miners that I think are investable). Most of the mining stocks are on sale. They make a great addition to most portfolios, particularly for gold exposure, in addition to, or in lieu of the GLD. If you want general exposure to the sector as a whole in lieu of a single stock, then I recommend the three possible ETF plays above. These were the gold mining etf (NYSEARCA:GDX), the junior gold mining etf (NYSEARCA:GDXJ), and the Direxion Daily Gold Miner Bull 3x ETF (NYSEARCA:NUGT). Call options activity has been heavy on the mining etfs suggesting a bullish move in these etfs, which also suggests a bullish move in the mining stock as a whole. If you believe we will see QE3 and action in the form of bond buying in the eurozone, I recommend starting a position in the miners, my favorites being EGO, AEM and AU.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in NUGT over the next 72 hours.