The Miner With a Heart of Silver

With silver breaking through to more than $20 per ounce today for the first time since its famous 1980 spike to around $50, what better time to digest earnings from a silver miner that has outlived every rise and fall in the price of silver since 1928?

After struggling for years with an aging mine portfolio, Coeur d'Alene (NYSE: CDE  ) completed a critical pair of acquisitions in 2007 to secure one of the world's most significant silver reserves: the Palmarejo Project in Mexico. Overnight, the company's silver reserves ballooned to 400 million ounces from 250 million, and an aggressive development plan includes production from the site in early 2009.

Meanwhile, Coeur d'Alene is beginning production at its San Bartolome Project in Bolivia this month and anticipates 6 million ounces of added production for a 40% increase in 2008. With no hedges in place and silver expected to continue its rise, this suggests at least a $108 million increase in revenue for 2008 (partially offset by a projected decline in gold production of 24,000 ounces, or about $20 million).

Although the future is looking up for Coeur d'Alene, it had its share of difficulties in 2007. Cost overruns and production declines at the company's Cerro Bayo Project, for example, dropped EBITDA earnings 30% to $65.7 million for the year and prompted a shakeup of project management. By the fourth quarter, though, costs were back under control. The company recorded a $2.73 cash cost per ounce of silver and commissioned a new mill facility at its Martha Mine in southern Argentina.

So far in the gold and silver bull market cycle, Coeur d'Alene's stock has been a beast of an underperformer compared to competitors Pan American Silver (Nasdaq: PAAS  ) , Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL  ) , and even iShares Silver Trust (AMEX: SLV  ) bullion ETF. But with 400 million ounces of silver and 3.3 million ounces of gold in the ground at a market value of $10 billion (assuming $18 silver and $850 gold), Coeur d'Alene's market capitalization of $1.43 billion looks intriguingly undervalued in this Fool's eyes.

Furthermore, after witnessing the acceleration in silver's rise right next to gold's in recent weeks, many industry analysts now think that silver is poised to outperform gold. Silver's value is becoming much closer to gold's, breaking out from its recent 50-to-1 gold-to-silver ratio and trending in the direction of its historic range, around 16-to-1.

As always, investments in silver or gold are not for the faint of heart. These metals can experience gut-wrenching corrections at unexpected points in a bull market cycle. Over the long run, though, the stage appears set for further price appreciation.

As Coeur d'Alene's CEO said in the report Friday: "We remain bullish on the outlook for silver prices. The overall supply/demand fundamentals appear to remain strong." As of this writing, Coeur d'Alene is at fresh 52-week highs at $5.18, suggesting a breakout may already be underway.

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