A recent winning streak has some precious metals pundits hoping gold and silver will continue rallying and put an end to one of the longest slumps in recent memory.
Though CIBC World Markets Inc.'s Leon Esterhuizen is not exuberantly shouting "buy" – he warns that the current uptick is part of a short relief rally and not likely to become a major upswing – the precious metal analyst believes "there is a real possibility of a bit of a pop in the gold price."
"Gold may well be down," he said, "but it is not out yet."
It's been a difficult few years for gold miners. While prices surged to nearly $2,000 (U.S.) per ounce in 2011 and hovered above $1,500 through 2012, the metal has languished at prices in the lower $1,000s since.
And despite some temporary relief, Mr. Esterhuizen thinks the pain will continue long-term. The analyst expects the price of gold to remain at an "uninspiring" $1,200 in 2015 and rise slightly to $1,250 in 2016. Gold closed at $1,204.80 Thursday.
The analyst pointed to three gold miners and one silver producer that are well-positioned to capitalize on a brief jump in the price of precious metals.
Mr. Esterhuizen thinks Vancouver-based Endeavour Mining Corp., which operates in West Africa, offers a combination of operational turnaround and potential low-cost growth. Trading at a discount to its peers and benefiting from a low Canadian dollar, the analyst views the gold miner as an attractive option. Mr. Esterhuizen expects the company to swing back to profitability in 2015, and more than double those profits by 2016. Endeavour also sports a good operational management team that has allowed it to pick up loss-making assets and turn them around. The analyst thinks the biggest risk to the miner is political unrest in its operating region. His target on Endeavour is $1.70 (Canadian).
Sibanye Gold Ltd. is also well-positioned to benefit in a rising gold price environment. Mr. Esterhuizen said the company has established a strong track record over the past few years that has translated into cash flows and dividends. The South African company, which operates underground and surface mines in its base region, also trades on the New York Stock Exchange. The analyst expects the miner to continue benefiting from the weak rand. While Mr. Esterhuizen does not think a decline in gold prices would cause too significant a drop in Sibanye's profitability, he said it would inhibit the company's ability to fund new projects and undertake acquisitions.
After steep selloffs toward the end of 2014, Mr. Esterhuizen thinks AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. is another strong target for gold speculators. The company has reported improved results over the last couple years after restructuring its asset base.
With its Kibali and Tropicana mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Australia beginning to produce, the analyst expects higher income for 2015 and 2016. While Mr. Esterhuizen views AngloGold's balance sheet a liability, the company has noted its intention not to raise equity. Instead, the South Africa-based miner intends to continue cutting costs and shake off assets to address its debt. The company operates in a variety of regions of Africa, Australia and the America.
While gold miners have been feeling pressure, silver miners are struggling to stay afloat. The current silver price, even after this week's gains, has left silver only slightly above the $17 per ounce sector-average break-even point. Silver closed at $17.14 Thursday.
Despite the thin margins, Mr. Esterhuizen thinks silver miners could gain even more from the potential precious metals rally than gold miners. The analyst expects the silver to gold price ratio, which has increased beyond the 70 to 1 mark, to revert back closer to the historical 60 to 1 or 50 to 1 ratio. This would leave silver miners with a lot of room to grow if precious metals do start to climb.
In this vein, the analyst pointed to Vancouver-based Silver Standard Resources Inc. as an option for investors who aren't risk averse. The company's Pirquitas Mine in Argentina has been generating positive cash flows despite the country's notoriously difficult operating climate. The cash flows allowed Silver Standard to acquire Marigold Mine in the U.S. last year, which diluted its dependence on Argentina. With two other projects in the advanced development stage, both of which are highly-levered to both silver and gold, the analyst thinks the company is "an ideal vehicle to gain exposure to rising precious metals prices." His target on Silver Standard is $8.30 (U.S.).