Gold finally has its shine back. Yes, some folks may have abandoned gold in favor of digital gold — bitcoin has surged several hundred percent recently. But the world’s favorite precious metal is sparkling again too. Recently, the price of gold topped $1,400/oz, marking its highest level in more than five years. Gold’s move has come with surprising speed as well, it’s up nearly 10% over the past month.
Not surprisingly, with gold surging, investors are starting to come back to a long dormant group of companies: mining stocks. Now, to be fair, most of these gold stocks are rightly ignored. As the famous adage goes, a gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top. That’s true of far too many small prospecting companies.
Incredibly, over the past 10 years, even with the price of gold up overall, mining stocks have gotten wrecked. The main sector ETF, VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX) has lost nearly half its value over the past decade. Meanwhile, the more speculative smaller gold companies fund, VanEck Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDXJ) has lost a catastrophic 67% of its value. Again, that’s during a time when the price of gold went up on net, and stocks in general soared.
That means that it is most important to stick to quality operations when picking your gold stocks. Unlike many sectors, mediocrity generally isn’t enough to drive positive performance in gold, even if the overall conditions are relatively decent. With all that in mind, what should you buy and what should avoid as gold stocks take off again?
Barrick Gold (GOLD)
One good rule for buying into an unloved sector is to buy one of the industry leaders, as long as it has a decent balance sheet. Newmont (NYSE:NEM) has been in a terrible funk since it made its questionable purchase of Goldcorp. Newmont stock has barely moved since the gold stock rally got going. That leaves Barrick Gold (NYSE:GOLD) as the next best option. With its $30 billion market cap and operations spanning many countries, Barrick is one of the world’s leading diversified miners.
In fact, by at least one metric, Barrick is the world’s powerhouse gold mining firm. It has five of the world’s ten Tier 1 mines — defined as a mine that produces 500,000 ounces or more per year, has 10+ years of reserves left, and operates at or below the median global cost of mining. This huge number of long-life world class assets ensures the Barrick is here to stay. Regardless of where the price of gold goes, Barrick will be mining lots of gold — profitably — for many years to come.
The company has a lot to offer investors in 2019 specifically, as well. In its first quarter, for example, Barrick showed nice leverage to the price of gold despite it having lower-cost mining operations. For the quarter, Barrick managed to boost cash from operations 27% while doubling earnings as gold production rose 8%. That’s some solid results. At $16/share, GOLD stock is still well short of the $22 level it hit in 2016 on the last wave of gold stocks momentum. If gold can keep its momentum, GOLD stock should be able to revisit $22 in a hurry.
Gold Stocks To Buy: Franco-Nevada (FNV)
Buying industry leaders is a good way to catch a sector as it comes out of a long slumber. However, thinking back to how poorly mining stocks in general have performed, there’s another important thing to consider. That’s the different between gold streaming stocks and gold mining stocks. The gold streamers act as a sort of specialty finance shop, lending money to the mining companies, and getting a cut of ensuing gold production at a (usually) fixed price.
The gold streamers take on significant risks including gold price variation, delays in production, and bankruptcy of the counterparty mining firm. In return, however, the gold streamers tend to earn fat returns. Over the past decade, while mining stocks as a group lost half their value or more, streamers prospered. For example, Franco-Nevada (NYSE:FNV) quadrupled, and rival streamer Royal Gold (NASDAQ:RGLD) soared 150% over the past 10 year period while mining stocks plummeted.
Franco-Nevada specifically, over the years, has built a huge pool of streaming assets across gold and other things. Last year, it sold nearly 350,000 ounces of gold, along with nearly 100,000 gold equivalent ounces of other metals including silver and platinum. For the year, it produced $139 million in net income off of $653 million in revenue, generating a robust profit margin. It also pays a modest dividend to shareholders — a rarity in the gold stocks industry — to reward its owners.
Gold Stocks To Buy: Sandstorm Gold (SAND)
While Barrick Gold and Franco-Nevada will offer big upside if and when gold stocks rally more, the list wouldn’t be complete without at least one potential home run pick. Enter Sandstorm Gold (NYSEAMERICAN:SAND). While the ticker may be SAND, Sandstorm is much more precious than that.
The company is attractive because it is a small streaming company with several big deals in the pipeline. At the moment, it has streams on 22 operating assets, which, at a gold price of just $1,300/oz throw off more than $60 million a year in cash flow. By 2022, as new contracted assets come into play, Sandstorm’s cash flow is projected to double to around $130 million per year — again using that conservative $1,300/oz gold price number.
Now, consider that Sandstorm’s market cap is just $1 billion. That’s something like just 7x cash flow once its new mine streams come online. Now factor it significantly higher gold prices and things get even more exciting. SAND stock is already up 50% since its November low. It could run a lot more than that if and when the gold stocks rally kicks it into next gear.
At the time of this writing, Ian Bezek owned SAND and FNV stock. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek.