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Some investors refuse to seriously consider gold and silver producers as legitimate choices for investment capital.
Where such decisions are based upon thorough and objective research, I take no issue.
Unfortunately, I observe that many refusals to invest in the sector are born of suppositions, misconceptions, and even prejudices. The result, often, is that decisions are made to avoid the sector without a trace of real consideration.
All the while, one company in particular continues to shine so brightly that it commands the attention of every Fool ... whether you view silver as a de facto currency or merely an industrial commodity. If you haven't taken a long, hard look at Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) , I ask you: What are you Wheaton for?
As the world's only silver stream specialist, Silver Wheaton resides in a class all its own. With silver prices showing persistent strength under the shadow of gold, the company's fixed-cost business model permitted a 44% expansion of cash operating margin for the second quarter to a healthy $14.45 (for each of the 5.1 million silver equivalent ounces (SEOs) sold during the period). Fool favorite Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL ) produced a more astonishing margin of $20.78 per ounce in the quarter thanks to negative production costs (after by-product credits), but Silver Wheaton produced more than twice the volume.
More impressive still, record earnings of $0.16 per share ($53.3 million) represent a 129% year-over-year increase, even after absorbing the impact of shares issued in connection with the strategic acquisition of a silver stream from Barrick Gold's (NYSE: ABX ) Pascua Lama mine. Silver production rose 33% thanks to the Barrick acquisition and a very successful ramp-up process at Goldcorp's (NYSE: GG ) Penasquito mine. For now, however, the recently transferred San Dimas mine (now operated by Primero Mining) remains in first place among Silver Wheaton's producing streams.
At the intersection between rising sales volume (up 74%) and an expanding operating margin, the brightest indicator of Silver Wheaton's strength stands for all to see: a net profit margin of 56%! That's a 1,200-basis-point surge over the prior-year margin, and any additional price gains in silver stand to improve that margin further still.
For serious silver investors stymied by disappointing bottom-line results from Coeur d'Alene Mines (NYSE: CDE ) , Silver Wheaton provides a rock of unflappable profitability to stand upon. For those who consider the iShares Silver Trust (NYSE: SLV ) a sensible exposure to the metal -- and I am not one of them -- Silver Wheaton's dramatic outperformance of bullion proxies stands as a testament to the enduring leverage of well-selected producers over price gains in the underlying metal.
Silver Wheaton shares have appreciated nearly 700% since I highlighted an unmistakable opportunity back in 2008, and more recently I expressed my expectation for the stock to reach $100 before this precious-metals bull market has finished running its course. So whether you view silver through the lens of a hard currency in a world of papier-mache, or a commodity play on rising industrial demand, what exactly are you Wheaton for?