Is This the Michael Jordan of Gold Miners?

In the grueling sport of gold mining, Randgold Resources (Nasdaq: GOLD  ) has dominated the competition like a Michael Jordan or a Larry Bird in their prime.

Over the past five years, shares of Randgold have absolutely creamed those of major producers including Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM  ) and Goldcorp (NYSE: GG  ) . Even two of this Fool's favorite mid-tier growth stories -- my 2009 top pick, Agnico-Eagle Mines (NYSE: AEM  ) , and Fortune Magazine growth-list leader Eldorado Gold (NYSE: EGO  ) -- have failed to keep pace with Randgold's breathtaking gain of more than 500% over the five-year period.

Third-quarter earnings provide a timely update on this golden athlete's performance and a chance to evaluate the miner's potential to continue dominating the field going forward. Randgold's earnings of $28.2 million were better by 108% than the prior-year mark. Looking only at earnings and share-price appreciation, Fools might never imagine the obstacles that Randgold overcame to deliver those results.

Last year, I honed in on a couple of red flags that caused me some concern for Randgold, but those issues no longer apply. I am decidedly allergic to gold hedges in a rising price environment of the magnitude we are presently witnessing, so I am pleased to report that Randgold will fulfill the last of its hedge obligations by the end of 2010. Another red-flag item that gave me pause last year -- a set of deep-underwater positions in auction rate securities -- is also now behind the company.

Randgold hit some challenging operational snags during 2010, including a spate of power outages and some difficulty ramping-up a plant expansion at the company's flagship Luolo mine in Mali. With those issues now resolved, however, the stage has been set for some explosive production growth. As CEO Mark Bristow explains: "This year's challenges have now all been dealt with. We're looking at an 80% to 90% increase in gold production in the current December quarter, and an overall 50% increase in production next year."

That 50% growth spurt would bring the miner to some 675,000 of gold production in 2011, and a targeted start-up of the highly prospective Kibali mine could spur Randgold to the 1-million-ounce threshold of annual production by 2013. With that achievement, and especially if the company continues to exhibit enormous exploration success and resulting reserve growth, Randgold will have set the bar rather high for rival mid-tier miners like Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY  ) to follow. Although I vastly prefer Yamana from a valuation perspective at this juncture, it appears Randgold will continue to contend for the honor of top athlete among the ranks of the mid-tier growth leaders.

Please take a moment to vote in our Motley Poll, and explain your answer in the comments section below. To keep a closer eye on Randgold Resources, simply add the stock to your Motley Fool watchlist by clicking here.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He tweets. He owns shares of Agnico-Eagle Mines, Eldorado Gold, and Yamana Gold. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. The Motley Fool has a gilded disclosure policy.


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