Gold mining shares deserve their own discussion. I am bullish on gold without qualification. I am also bullish on gold miners…but with one very large qualification: they must produce positive cash flow.
I think the bull market in gold is intact. And I think gold prices will make highs within a year.
However, gold stocks have done poorly. Few have been spared. Like the other mining companies, they suffer from the same affliction: an eager willingness to take whatever cash they generate and dump it right back into the ground.
So even though the four largest listed gold miners — Goldcorp, Barrick, Newmont and Newcrest — generated $47.5 billion in operating cash flows in the last decade, they spent $62.5 billion in new mines, acquisitions and other capital expenditures. The big four have made no money in one of the greatest gold bull markets on record. In fact, they’ve lost money.
How did they make up this deficit? They sold more shares to the ever-gullible public — always a sucker for a good story about buried treasure. The number of shares outstanding rose 117% in the decade.
I’ve railed before about the management of gold miners. And I’ve tried to find gold miners in which the management teams do intelligent things. But it is hard. Even when you think you have found a team that says all the right things and looks as if it can do it, it does stuff that makes you scratch your head.
Aurizon Mines (Symbol: AZK. Price $4.43), for instance, is a wonderful miner. It generates plenty of cash. It has nearly $200 million in cash in the bank and no debt. But where is the payoff for shareholders? There is no dividend, no share buyback. Despite record revenues and cash margins, AZK’s cash balance is actually 7% lower than a year ago — again, because they put it all back in the ground. The share price is down almost 10% year over year. And this has been one of the better-performing mining stocks!
It’s very frustrating…
Still, price-to-cash-flow multiples have fallen to generational lows. During the last two decades, the XAU Index of gold mining stocks traded, on average, for 14 times cash flow. Today, the XAU is selling for less than 7 times cash flow, which is very close to its all-time low. So with smaller miners that produce cash flow, you have the chance of a good bounce to something closer to historical norms. The best case is a buyout by one of those free-spending bigger gold companies.
Chris Mayerfor The Daily Reckoning
Chris Mayer is managing editor of the Capital and Crisis and Mayer's Special Situations newsletters. Graduating magna cum laude with a degree in finance and an MBA from the University of Maryland, he began his business career as a corporate banker. Mayer left the banking industry after ten years and signed on with Agora Financial. His book, Invest Like a Dealmaker, Secrets of a Former Banking Insider, documents his ability to analyze macro issues and micro investment opportunities to produce an exceptional long-term track record of winning ideas. In April 2012, Chris released his newest book World Right Side Up: Investing Across Six Continents.
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