While Vancouver is suddenly awash with Olympians preparing to compete for those coveted gold and silver medals, countless metal producers are headquartered right there in the city.
As if on cue for the opening ceremonies, Vancouver's Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) struck a valuable silver stream agreement this week with another Vancouver-based company: Augusta Resource (AMEX: AZC ) . Once Augusta's Rosemont copper project in Arizona is fully permitted to proceed with construction, Silver Wheaton will supply $230 million of the estimated $900 million needed to bring the mine into production. In return, Silver Wheaton will be afforded an essentially fixed purchase price of $3.90 per ounce of silver and $450 per ounce of gold for 100% of the project's silver and gold byproduct.
Targeting completion by 2012, Rosemont is poised to account for some 10% of total U.S. copper production at a very attractive production cost of just $0.62 per pound. With enough copper and molybdenum production to yield strong project economics in their own right, parlaying the life-of-mine silver and gold byproduct into some 25% of the construction cost makes a lot of sense for a development-stage junior miner eager to build its way into production.
Fools will recall that another Vancouver favorite -- Taseko Mines (AMEX: TGB ) -- chose a similar path by selling an equity stake in the Gibraltar copper mine for some of the capital needed to build a truly prosperous gold and copper mine.
For Silver Wheaton, Rosemont's estimated annual production of 2.4 million ounces of silver and 15,000 ounces of gold (over a 20-year mine life) further sweetens the profitability prospects that spawned this Fool's nomination of the best stock for 2010. Although the company now dabbles in gold, I find it convenient to convert gold to silver equivalent ounces (SEOs) to retain focus on the company's primary product.
On that basis, Rosemont is expected to produce 63 million SEOs overall, representing an acquisition cost of $3.65 per life-of-mine SEO. I estimate Silver Wheaton's production cost at $5.19 per SEO, which yields an all-in cost of $8.84 per SEO. Although this is substantially higher than the company's overall, all-inclusive cost structure of about $5.82 per economically viable SEO, the deal leaves ample margin for profit even at February's silver price range above $15.
Although Silvercorp Metals (NYSE: SVM ) earns the gold medal for lowest-cost silver producer with a recently reported production cost of negative $6.87 per ounce, the combination of Silver Wheaton's fixed cost-structure and its massive scale of reserves makes it my top choice for Vancouver gold. Pan American Silver (Nasdaq: PAAS ) enjoyed considerable success expanding its resource base in 2009, but here again Silver Wheaton set the golden standard.
While gold producers like Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) and Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) consistently hog the precious metal headlines, I urge Fools not to overlook silver ... particularly while the price ratio between the two metals remains strongly indicative of impending outperformance by silver. Now that you know where I stand, please vote in our Motley Poll and share your thoughts below.
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