On the heels of President Obama's trip to Canada to reassure trade partners about the "Buy American" provision of his stimulus bill, I'd like to suggest another tack: buy pan-American. Given the company's name, Canadian miner Pan American Silver (Nasdaq: PAAS ) offers one non-protectionist way to buy American.
With weakness in the U.S. dollar looking increasingly likely going forward, I believe that silver is often overlooked relative to gold as a precious safe haven. I recently suggested to Fools at my Motley Fool CAPS blog that silver is more precious than gold, and as the pain of a difficult fourth quarter subsides, it seems Pan American Silver could deliver substantial leverage to silver price movements.
It should come as no surprise that Pan American posted dismal fourth-quarter results last week. Its loss was $33.3 million, revenue was down 46%, and negative cash flow from operating activities was $4.9 million, reflecting an unprecedented collapse in metals prices (silver prices fell from nearly $21 in March 2008 to less than $9 in October). Pan American adapted quickly to the challenges, contributing to the writedowns that offset earnings, and emerges a very focused silver producer with two major projects approaching commercial production in 2009.
After a hair-raising increase in costs to $8.24 per ounce of silver in the fourth quarter, Pan American expects costs of $6.28 per ounce for 2009 as the low-cost Manantial Espejo mine ramps up and the San Vicente expansion project goes online. That cost projection leaves plenty of wiggle room for profit with silver prices above $14, and it opens the door for Pan American to continue chasing recent outperformers like Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) and Silver Standard Resources (Nasdaq: SSRI ) .
Unlike competitors Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL ) and Coeur d'Alene Mines (NYSE: CDE ) , Pan American Silver still boasts a debt-free balance sheet. Throughout the precious-metals mining sector, debt is certainly the norm, with Pan American and Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) providing noteworthy exceptions. For navigating an arduous 2008 without dipping into debt, and for emerging in a position to deliver long-awaited leverage to the price of silver, Pan American Silver deserves the close inspection of silver-seeking Fools.