It has been a long and hard road for gold miners. Despite another record performance for gold last year, miner stocks lagged the physical precious metal. Gold prices finished 2011 at $1,566.80 per ounce (oz), representing a 9.3% annual increase. However, the Market Vectors Gold Miners Index fell 16.3%, and the Junior Gold Miners Index plummeted 38%. Although miners have underperformed bullion, recent earnings may finally cause a shift in sentiment and share prices.
Late Wednesday, Yamana Gold reported fourth-quarter (Q4) earnings of $0.25 per share, beating estimates of $0.24. Revenues of $569 million (M) missed estimates of $601.5M, but still increased 6% from the fourth quarter of 2010. "We have sought to position Yamana as a predictable, reliable, low cost gold producer with significant resources and production growth. Our focus has been on generation of cash flow and free cash flow," said Peter Marrone, chief executive officer. Some analysts continue to doubt the longevity of record high gold prices, but companies such as Yamana continue to capitalize. The company finished 2011 with $550M in cash and cash equivalents, representing a $220M increase from 2010. Year-to-date, shares of the Canadian-based miner have surged 21%.
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Earlier this month, Goldcorp also reported impressive Q4 results. Adjusted net earnings came in at $531M, compared to $431M a year earlier. For the full year, the company earned $1.8 billion (B), which represents an increase of 80% from 2010. "Our record performance is the result of strength throughout the mine portfolio," Goldcorp CEO Chuck Jeannes said in a statement. The company finished 2011 with cash and cash equivalents of $1.5B, compared to only $556M at the end of 2010. After sliding almost 4% in 2011, shares of Goldcorp have increased 10% year-to-date.
Although some well-known investors such as Warren Buffett continue to downplay gold’s role in the global financial system, other investors are embracing the safe haven. In the fourth quarter, David Einhorn of hedge fund Greenlight Capital highlighted the underperformance of miners. He said, "Throughout the course of this year, a substantial disconnect has developed between the price of gold and the mining companies. With gold at today’s price, the mining companies have the potential to generate double-digit free cash flow returns and offer attractive risk adjusted returns even if gold does not advance further. Of course, since we believe gold will continue to rise, we expect gold stocks to do even better." As of December 2011, Einhorn holds 7.2M shares of GDX and 1.9M shares of GDXJ.
In addition to gold miners finally earning some respect, silver miners are also turning heads. The Global X Silver Miners ETF, which holds shares in Silver Wheaton, First Majestic, Hecla Mining and others, declined 22% in 2011. However, the ETF has surged 20% year-to-date. It received a boost earlier this week after Hecla Mining reported a Q4 profit of $18.6M, compared to a net loss of $9.7M a year earlier. Hecla shares closed 9.16% higher on Tuesday after the results.
Investor Insight: Record High Gold Prices Fail to Curb Global Demand
As central banks and governments continue to inject liquidity into the financial system through quantitative easing programs, gold and silver prices will continue to climb higher. As a result, miners will continue to earn record profits and provide benefits to shareholders. Jim Rogers recently told Reuters, "We already have QE3, get out the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet. You’ll see that they’ve been pumping up—you can see unadjusted M2 is going through the roof. Look at their balance sheet, all sorts of assets are suddenly appearing on their balance sheet. Where did they come from? They didn’t come from the Tooth Fairy: They came because they’re in there buying in the market as fast as they can. There is QE3 already. They don’t call it that but it’s there."
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Eric McWhinnie, Wall St. Cheat Sheet
To contact the reporter on this story: Eric McWhinnie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclosure: Long AG, HL and PHYS