Precious metals had a great week. The SPDR Gold Trust ETF (NYSEARCA:GLD) was up 2.9% this week, while the iShares Silver Trust (NYSEARCA:SLV) was up 5.3%. While some fast money was made in the metals and mining stocks this week, I believe there are still profits to be made in the gold and silver companies near-term, and without question in the long-term.
I pounded the table in August on the gold miners and the silver miners as I repeatedly encouraged investments in the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX), the Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDXJ) and the Global X Silver Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:SIL). I further highlighted some of the major individual mining companies such as Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX), Goldcorp (NYSE:GG), Silvercorp Metals (NYSE:SVM) and Pan American Silver (NASDAQ:PAAS), which I thought would perform well if central bank stimulus occurred. All of these equities are up significantly since that time.
Through my research on these prior recommendations (which I am reiterating as solid long-term buys), I became familiar with a unique business model in the gold and silver space known as 'streaming,' and would encourage investors in traditional precious metal mining stocks to consider streaming companies as an alternative.
A precious metal streaming company generates its profits by providing up front financing for mining companies looking to expand and drill for precious metals. In exchange for the up front financing of these companies, the streaming company acquires the right to purchase a portion of production generated from the mines at a fixed cost. I would like to highlight two companies involved in silver and gold streaming (there are more in the space) that I am closely watching over the next 12 months that I believe could outperform traditional miners. These companies are Silver Wheaton (SLW) and Sandstorm Gold (NYSEMKT:SAND).
I have liked silver and the silver companies for some time and although there are multiple ways to acquire silver exposure in your portfolio, SLW is by far my favorite silver stock. I believe it could not only outperform silver in the next year, but also the bulk of other silver companies. SLW is a worldwide silver streaming company, and is one of the most efficiently run companies in the mining and metals sector. SLW has contracts with companies around the world to purchase silver production in bulk at prices well below market value. Once SLW acquires the silver at the predetermined upfront investment cost, it then proceeds to sell the silver at higher prices. The company currently has 14 long-term silver purchase agreements and two long-term precious metal purchase agreements whereby it acquires silver and gold production from companies located in Mexico, the United States, Greece, Sweden, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Portugal.
According to the company,
the predetermined price that SLW pays for future silver production is approximately $4.00 per ounce, with a small inflationary adjustment, ensuring that costs are fixed.
SLW represents an excellent investment to gain exposure to silver as SLW offers significant leverage to the price of silver with minimal downside risks. No additional capital expenditures or exploration costs are required by SLW besides the initial payments the company makes to silver miners to secure the rights to purchase low cost silver. Further, SLW benefits from the production and exploration growth of its operating partners. It does not face the rising labor cost issues that actual miners face. So long as the mines are producing, SLW will have a consistent stream of silver and in turn a stream of revenue. The higher the price of silver goes, the better the top and bottom lines will be. This efficient business model creates long-term shareholder value.
SLW recently reported third quarter earnings. The reported earnings were below analysts' estimates, primarily due to irregularities between ounces sold and timing of shipments. However, management stated that cash flow and dividends both will increase through the last three months of this year as sales begin to catch up with production. Production was up in the third quarter, rising to 7.69 million ounces of silver, however sales rose less than 1% to just 5.14 million ounces. Sales dropped by 13% to $161.3 million. Net income dropped by 11% from last year's $135 million to $119.7 million.
Although the quarter was weaker than expected, shares haven't been hurt. The company looks strong going forward. SLW currently trades at $40.39 and has a 52-week trading range of $22.94 to $41.30. On average, about 4.2 million shares exchange hands daily. The company trades at a 26 P/E multiple but only a 1.06 PEG ratio and currently yields 0.7% (the company reduced its quarterly dividend to 7 cents temporarily). Earnings per share are estimated to grow at a rate of 37% in the next five years. The company also has a great balance sheet with a debt to equity ratio that is minimal at 0.7.
Turning to the gold space, an up and coming streaming company is SAND. What is interesting about this company is that it is headed up by CEO Nolan Watson. Nolan Watson served as the former CFO of SLW and thus he is familiar with the business model of streaming. Mr. Watson has demonstrated success. During his time with SLW, the stock moved from about $8 a share to over $20. I think he will deliver for shareholders of SAND as well.
As with SLW and silver miners, SAND provides upfront financing for gold mining companies that are looking for capital for exploration and development. In return for upfront financing, SAND receives a gold streaming agreement giving SAND the right to purchase a percentage of the gold produced by the company. More specifically, SAND has the right to a percentage of a mine's gold production for the life of the mine. SAND currently has a portfolio of seven gold streams, five of which are now producing gold and two royalties. SAND plans to grow and diversify its low-cost production profile through the acquisition of additional gold streams. SAND is a growth-focused company that is seeking to acquire more of these gold streams from companies that have advanced stage development projects or operating mines.
SAND's second quarter was strong as it reported record sales and revenues. In its Q2, SAND sold 9,259 ounces of gold and had cash flow of over $11.3 million. The standout statistic of the quarter in my opinion was that SAND paid an average of $298 per ounce of gold, leading to cash operating margins of $1317 an ounce.
SAND also just reported third quarter earnings. In Q3, SAND had record revenues of $15.1 million on gold sales of 9,066 ounces. Cash flow was still strong at $10.6 million. Margins decreased slightly on gold sales as the cost per ounce was $408, resulting in cash operating margins of $1258 per ounce. Margins were still very strong in my estimation. Finally, based on existing gold stream agreements, the forecast for attributable production in 2012 is 31,000 to 34,000 ounces of gold, increasing to over 60,000 ounces of gold equivalent per annum by 2015.
The current share price is $14.26. This is up significantly from when I first highlighted the company, but I still think it is a good entry point for the long-term investor. On average, approximately 575,000 shares exchange hands daily. The stock has ranged from $5.45 to $15.43 (this takes into account when it was listed in the OTC markets).
In summation, I believe precious metals are in a long-term bull market. We have had a slight pullback from the recent highs following central bank action, thus presenting an entry point opportunity for the long-term investor. The streaming business model is rapidly becoming one of my favorites as the risk is much lower compared to traditional miners. Thus I will be watching both SLW and SAND closely in the next 12 months and think it is likely the stocks could outperform those of the traditional mining companies.
Disclosure: I am long SLV. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.