Top 10 Gold Plays Revealed
The Gold Report 10/23/2009
Production stage, location and dividend possibilities separate top mining and royalty stocks from the rest of the heap. In this exclusive interview with The Gold Report, Gold Stock Analyst (GSA) Newsletter Writer John Doody reveals a few of his top 10 stocks and what diversifying your gold portfolio really means.
The Gold Report: What are some of your strategies for picking stellar gold stocks and limiting risk?
John Doody: We cover 70 mining and royalty stocks. In the selection process, we reduce it to our top 10. It's an ideal number because if one stock falls by 50% in value, it only affects your portfolio by 5% total. If a couple of stocks double or triple, they can really pull up the whole portfolio. If someone argues for investing in 8 or 12 stocks, we wouldn't argue with that. But I see too many people at gold shows who have one or two and think they are diversified. They aren't. Too many others have 20 or more, which is too many to follow and too many to have outstanding portfolio returns.
Our premise is that the market is inefficient and doesn't value all 70 stocks we cover appropriately all the time. Since an ounce is an ounce is an ounce, GSA's metrics can show which companies are undervalued and which ones are overvalued. These are our market capitalization per ounce numbers, market capitalization meaning shares times price. What's the market capitalization of an ounce of reserves? What's the market capitalization of an ounce of production? That's the initial filter.
We look at a whole range of factors and ask the big questions. Is it a producer or is it just getting started? Where are the mines located? Are they in politically safe areas or are they risky locations? Are they open-pit mines primarily or underground mines? What's the cost to produce an ounce? What's the operating cash flow from the mines?
We only look at producers or near-producers. No exploration stocks, because there is no data. Some of these exploration companies do mature and get our coverage later on.
We build our Top 10 portfolio based upon integrating all of these factors and don't get over-weighted in one sector or the other. For example, we have one silver stock in the portfolio. And, I've always felt silver is a derivative of gold. As gold goes up, silver will come along. But our real focus is on gold.
TGR: Of those Top 10 stocks, how many of those projects have you visited?
JD: bout half. A lot of them have a whole bunch of projects, such as Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G; NYSE:GG). I've been to two or three of their mines. But, others only have one.
TGR: Is it correct that you lean more toward mid-tier producers than you do near-term producers?
JD: Yes. We want data to analyze. With our track record of an average 43% gain per year over the last 10 years, we don't have to go down the risk spectrum into exploration stories. When analyzing 70 stocks, we find undervalued situations. By looking at companies that are in production, we eliminate the risk of drill holes coming up dry or running into a permit problem that you didn't expect, or some type of environmental issue.
TGR: Are you talking to managers of these companies on a fairly frequent basis?
JD: We're on all the analyst calls of the Top 10 companies, as well as others we're following. We're always looking in the bullpen for who could be the next for the Top 10.
TGR: Mexico's Central Bank bought 100 tons or about US$4.6B worth of gold in February and March. Do you believe this will trigger another round of gold buying by Central Banks?
JD: We have had ongoing buying. Russia bought at the same time.
TGR: Is this part of a growing trend?
JD: I think so. Everyone, including Central Banks wants to get away from the dollar because it is sinking. There's not going to be any change in interest rate policy until after the next election, in my opinion. President Obama wants to get reelected and the last thing he needs is higher interest rates, which would worsen the unemployment situation. I think Chairman Bernanke, who's an expert on The Great Depression, knows that the Fed screwed up in the last Great Depression when it started raising rates in the mid-1930s and tightening the credit standards for bank loans. That had the effect of slowing down the economy, causing a double dip. Bernanke's not going to do anything to jeopardize this recovery.
A true recovery requires a lot more than one data point so the recent good U.S. job report hasn't turned the tide for the dollar. Countries are looking to diversify reserves. The big one is China. What will China do? China is already the largest consumer and producer of gold. It produced approximately 11 million ounces (Moz.) from its own mines last year and had to import another 8 Moz. to fill demand. India's pretty much in the same boat, but doesn't have any gold mines. Everything has to be imported. The issue in both nations, as in the U.S. and Europe, is the real interest rate. Both China and India currently have real interest rates of negative 3% to 4%. China and India are not well banked, so their people save their money in gold.
The real interest rate is the risk-free return from short-term Treasuries or savings deposits, adjusted for inflation. When the real interest rate is negative, as in the 1970s and 2000s, cash loses purchasing power. That's what drives gold. It can protect against purchasing power loss. That's the single most important factor. Everything else is just noise.
TGR: Recently, Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX; NYSE:ABX) paid US$7.3B for Equinox Minerals Ltd. (TSX:EQN; ASX:EQN), which is primarily a copper producer. Do you expect other large gold companies to follow suit and diversify into other mine commodities?
JD: I don't. I think that people will look at what happened at Barrick—the stock fell 10%. The gold miners like byproduct credits. It has become fashionable to report cash costs per ounce of gold net of byproduct credits.
But the market doesn't like it if you've got too much byproduct. In other words, if you were half copper and half gold, the market wouldn't give you a premium for your gold production. For example, one of the companies we like is New Gold Inc. (TSX:NGD; NYSE.A:NGD). They're basically a gold company now, with three gold mines, although they do have a small copper byproduct. But they have two big copper projects coming online that are fully financed. Their copper byproduct is going to be a big number for them. They recently bought a pure gold site that they're going to develop to produce 200 Koz. to 400 Koz. of gold a year and dilute their cooper. They want the copper to lower their cash cost to produce gold. But they don't want too much because they'll lose their gold premium in the stock price.
I think you really have to look at what the mix of copper is going to be in the Barrick portfolio to see if they've gone overboard on this or not. When Pascua-Lama and some other sites come on board, maybe it will make sense.
TGR: Isn't all this based on the copper price?
JD: here's no question the market didn't like it because they knocked 10% off of Barrick's price right away. It's a little puzzling to me because Barrick already has a big copper-gold project in its pipeline. That's Donlin Creek, which they own with NovaGold Resources Inc. (TSX:NG; NYSE.A:NG). It has a big copper byproduct. I think buying Equinox probably pushes back the development of Donlin Creek.
TGR: What was the last time Barrick was in your Top 10?
JD: Probably back in the 1990s.
TGR: So even when they bought out their hedge book, you didn't take another look at it?
JD: No. It didn't make them undervalued and that's what we look for. The most recent big miner member, but not now in the Top 10, was Newmont Mining Corp. (NYSE:NEM). Newmont's been purer. It never really was a hedger. It's been pure gold and more focused on the metal.
TGR: With spot gold about US$1,500/oz., why are the stock prices of the major gold producers continuing to languish?
JD: It's due to a variety of factors. Two majors—AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. (NYSE:AU; JSE:ANG; ASX:AGG; LSE:AGD) and Gold Fields Ltd. (NYSE:GFI)—are in South Africa and run the risk of their mines being totally nationalized. I don't want that risk. I assume other people don't want it either. We've seen both Anglo and Gold Fields trying to diversify out of South Africa. But they have to get permission from the South African Central Bank to do much. That means they're not going to be able to split the companies into a South African part and a non-South African part, which would probably be good for the stocks.
The second reason is that gold producers have had rising cash costs, although some of it's not their fault. Canada's a great place to have a mine, but the Canadian dollar has been very strong. When you translate your Canadian dollar cash cost back into U.S. dollars, cash costs are higher than before. A lot of the mines are struggling with rising cash costs, which puts a greater emphasis on byproducts, but most Canadian mines don't have the luxury of a copper byproduct.
And, the third reason is growth. There hasn't been demonstrated growth from a number of the majors. The growth companies have been the next tier down. Goldcorp and Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K; NYSE:KGC) show good growth. Yamana Gold Inc. (TSX:YRI; NYSE:AUY; LSE:YAU) too, but a little further down. So, when you get to 7 Moz./year at Barrick, it's really tough. In order to produce 7 Moz., you’ve got to find 10 Moz. of new reserves due to recovery losses. That's basically two world-class mines a year. It's not sustainable. Newmont is now talking about growing from 5 Moz./year to 7 Moz./year. But that’s going to take a couple of years. You can get growth as you go down to the smaller companies because of the smaller scale. I think that's what investors are seeking.
I look for a combination of growth and yield. I want the company to do something that competes against the Gold ETF (or exchange-traded fund), which is a barren asset with no yield. Dividends open up a whole new class of investors to gold. Pension funds typically cannot buy a stock that doesn't have a dividend. Increasingly, the miners are coming to the realization that they need to pay a dividend.
TGR: Is that really providing the best return for investors?
JD: I think dividends are increasingly important to investors. A dividend-paying gold miner tends to trade at a price that gives a 1% yield, in a range from .5% to 1.5%. That's a growth stock yield found with tech stocks. That kind of yield is pretty attractive. Newmont, for example, increased its dividend and said it was linking it to the gold price and the stock rose. When they set the new yield, it was about 2%. Then the stock rose. The effective yield dropped to 1.7% or 1.8%. I think that was a good move on Newmont's part.
TGR: The gold price recently dropped by US$100/oz. to under $1,500/oz. Is this a sentiment-driven drop or is something else at play?
JD: First of all, the drop is trivial. The US$100/oz. is a big number, but is 5.8% a big drop? No. That's the same as a $10.00 stock's price falling $0.58. Insignificant. Since the bull market low in October 2008, we've had five gold price drops of greater than 5.8%, from 8.5% to 14.7%. Bull market pullbacks are normal and many would say healthy. The underlying force driving gold price is the real interest rate. It's what's driving this market. People are trying to protect their wealth whether it's here, China or India.
Actually, if there was a relation or single cause of the $100 drop, I think it was the European Central Bank (ECB) deciding not to raise rates a couple of days ago. Everybody thought the euro was going to get a rate bump up, and all the hedge funds had bought euro in advance to profit. Then when ECB said it wasn't going to raise interest rates because the economy was too weak, everybody pulled out of the euro and went back to the dollar. Gold and the dollar are negatively correlated, so when one rises, the other usually falls.
TGR: How big a drop in the price of gold would cause you concern?
JD: In order to get to its 50-day moving average, a key technical benchmark, it would have to fall to around US$1,340. From the US$1,560 high; it would have to fall by US$230, but it didn't fall half of that. Other people say a bear market begins when you fall 20%. That would mean it would have to fall more than 300 points.
TGR: Are there some companies with more direct exposure to gold than others?
JD: We like companies with low cash costs. One of the Top 10 is a company with a US$1.5B market cap and a philosophy of paying out one-third of its earnings in dividends. But, it doesn't trade in Canada because it doesn't have an NI 43-101 report yet. Gold Resource Corp. (OTCBB:GORO; Fkft:GIH) is ramping up production in Mexico. The company has been paying dividends since last August. One of the company's philosophies is to pay out a third of its cash-flow in dividends. The cash cost is zero so the company has a big cash flow. It is a poly-metallic project that produces gold and silver, which is reported as gold-equivalent. It also produces copper, lead and zinc. The byproduct cash credit is about $250/ton, so their gold and silver is effectively free. It's a very rich deposit south of Mexico City in the state of Oaxaca.
TGR: Why don’t they do an NI 43-101 report?
JD: The two brothers who started the company already had built and either depleted or sold six producing mines in the U.S. They founded U.S. Gold (TSX:UXG; NYSE:UXG). Their philosophy was to get this site into production fast. Doing an NI 43-101 would take time and they didn't need any bank financing. Hochschild, the big Peruvian mining company, invested US$65M, which built the mine and mill. Hochschild Mining (LSE:HOC) owns 27% of the company. It also invested early in Lake Shore Gold Corp. (TSX:LSG), a Canadian company. It is telling that when Hochschild needed some money to build at some of its own mines, it sold Lakeshore, but kept Gold Resources.
TGR: Let's talk about your newsletter The Gold Stock Analyst, which is the only audited gold newsletter. How long has it been audited and how does that work?
JD: Our results have been audited for the last 10 years. We hire an independent firm that specializes in auditing investment returns similar to paying an independent accounting firm to audit your books. Every trade we make is reported in the newsletter. There aren't that many trades. We have made one sell and one buy so far this year. Last year, I think we made two buys and two sells. It's only 10 stocks, so it's fairly easy to track.
Everyone in the investment management business is basically audited one way or another. Mutual funds are audited. Hedge funds are audited. Investment advisors are audited. It is how you prove to clients that your picks and results are good. But In the newsletter business, no other newsletter in any field is audited. And, it's amazing that people are willing to buy a newsletter and commit their investment funds based upon a track record they don’t even know. They're basically buying a story.
TGR: Any parting wisdom for gold investors?
JD: I think we touched on the two key things. One is diversification across different sectors of the gold market. Owning 10 exploration stocks is not diversification and you've got to be in politically safe areas. The other part is the macroeconomic picture. What's driving gold? It's the real interest rate. Focus on that. If risk-free returns are negative after inflation (and it's now negative worldwide), then you've got the driver around the world for higher gold prices. The gold market prices may be set in London and Chicago, but the demand—the end buyer—is all around the world. Half of them are in Asia and lots are in the Middle East. A smaller percentage than one might expect is comprised of end buyers in the U.S. and Europe.
TGR: Thank you for your time.