If you've heard enough about gold to pique your interest, but the logistics of owning bullion give you pause, then consider burying your gold underground.
Put away your shovels, Fools! Quality gold mining stocks are the next-best thing to bullion in the ground, precisely because ... they have lots of bullion in the ground. Agnico-Eagle Mines (NYSE: AEM ) , for example, is sitting on at least 18.1 million mineable ounces. While the miner's earnings last week warned of a delay in commissioning the important Kittila mine in Finland, those patient Fools who perceive gold mines as colossal vaults in the ground barely batted an eye.
The concept is not unique to gold. I offered the same perspective on a production shortfall by Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) last November. Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI ) recently assured coal investors grieving over production cuts that the trend leaves more coal in the ground to reap shareholder value once favorable pricing returns. Given widespread expectations for gold to climb substantially higher during this rough patch for the U.S. dollar, I believe that mine delays typically command excessive influence over stock prices.
While the delay at Agnico's Kittila mine might leave me wishing I had selected rival Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY ) as my top pick for 2009, if gold prices rise to the levels I anticipate over the coming years, then a delay like this can end up becoming a net positive. Those with a shorter time horizon, meanwhile, will likely feel the impact of Agnico-Eagle's 5% projected cost increase and at least a 2.5% reduction of forecast production. Due to metallurgical issues, Kittila will now cost an additional $30 million, and commissioning is expected during the third quarter.
Agnico-Eagle could never have become my top pick if it had laid all its golden eggs in the same nest. To the contrary, Agnico poured first gold at its Lapa mine last week, and the Pinos Altos project remains on track for the third quarter. Significantly, existing mines sufficed for an impressive 80% production increase over the prior year, at total cash costs of just $312 per ounce. Agnico earned $54.3 million with the help of a $38.6 million tax recovery.
I have suggested that gold is best suited for the long-term investor, and that near-term volatility is but a distraction from a multi-year bull market for precious metals. Although Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) possesses the largest underground vault by far, costs matter. Combining lower costs with substantial room for growth, miners like Agnico-Eagle and Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) could prove the most efficient means of storing gold.