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These days it displays all the speed of a shooting star -- but shows none of the propensity for petering out.
I am speaking, of course, of silver, which is tethered to gold by the slingshot effect. Investors are witnessing that slingshot effect in action, as silver has surged briskly to bring the gold-to-silver price ratio nearer to the range of modern historical averages. Long-term, I expect silver to outpace gold until a ratio of about 40:1 is achieved, but at the present level of roughly 56:1, we are already well on the road to correcting the anomalous peak of 80:1 reached in 2008.
Silver's meteoric 36% rise -- from about $18 in late August, to more than $24.50 on Thursday -- has translated into some noteworthy moves among the shares of silver miners and explorers. Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) has led the charge all year long, bringing my top stock pick for 2010 to an 84% increase year to date. Shares of junior miner Endeavour Silver (AMEX: EXK ) have surged more than 50% since my mid-August interview with CEO Bradford Cooke documented his on-the-money call for a strong rise in silver prices. Popular Fool favorite Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL ) has enjoyed a similar rise, though its shares have yet to record a fresh 52-week high.
Although I foresee a meaningful continuation of this secular bull market trend for silver (toward my long-term target price of $50 per ounce), I understand the difficult position that newcomers face in mulling fresh exposure to silver at these elevated price levels. Back in May, I proposed that any silver stock will do, but as the trend matures further, effective stock picking becomes increasingly significant as a means to ease concerns over downside risk.
When I want to sleep well at night while investing in a red-hot space like silver, I hunt for value. For newcomers seeking the widest value moat in the business, I recommend a careful look at major producer Pan American Silver (Nasdaq: PAAS ) .
At nearly twice the market capitalization of low-cost sensation Silvercorp Metals (NYSE: SVM ) , Pan American Silver is a well-established leader among primary silver producers that seems to garner little attention from investors. Following a long-awaited breakout through the $30 threshold, however, I suspect these shares could begin to rapidly close what I have presented as a meaningful valuation gap. This miner has a net cash position, holds massive untapped reserves, expects 23.4 million ounces of low-cost silver production for 2010, and even pays a small dividend. It is my contention that a major rift remains between the stock's present level and anything approaching fair value.
I am eager to hear your thoughts on the matter and encourage you to share your opinions in the comments section below.