It still seems like yesterday. In November 2008, I asked Fools to wake me up when silver mining became profitable again. Pan American Silver (Nasdaq: PAAS ) had just reported a loss, as an abrupt return to single-digit silver prices dipped beneath the miner's all-in cost of production.
A couple of years hence, it's a brave new world for silver miners, and my nearly successful nomination of Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) as the world's most profitable company underscores the incredible power of the metal's ongoing resurgence.
Of course, I didn't actually go to sleep back then (good thing; you never called!).
That same month, I recommended Silver Wheaton when it traded for $2.51 per share, and the stock has since appreciated more than 1,700%. I also encouraged readers of my CAPS blog not to overlook two junior silver miners in particular, and soaring silver sensations Endeavour Silver (NYSE: EXK ) and Great Panther Silver (AMEX: GPL ) have since become an eight-bagger and a 16-bagger, respectively.
Today, with silver prices barreling above $37 per ounce, reaping substantial profit from mining operations has grown rather simple. Endeavour Silver earned $5.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2010, and saw cash flow leap 107% to $28.5 million. The miner's average realized silver price for the period was $24.16 per ounce, which entices Fools with visions of the incredible looming profitability at current market prices. As CEO Bradford Cooke states: "Cash costs are expected to continue declining into the mid-$5 per oz range and if we assume a US$30 average silver price in 2010, our mine operating profit margin will be around $24 per oz -- remarkable by any standards." Not surprisingly, larger producers Pan American Silver and Coeur d'Alene Mines (NYSE: CDE ) posted some blowout fourth-quarter results of their own.
So if mining silver profitably is the easy part, where does the real challenge come in? The physical process of extracting payable silver from the ground is something of a mystery to many, including many silver investors. As a rare visual window into the nuts and bolts of an underground silver mining operation, Endeavour Silver's second installment in its "How Silver Is Mined" video series (view Part 1 here) is one of the closest proxies I've seen to an actual in-person site inspection. Now that you know how profitable silver mining can be, it's time to comprehend more fully how the metal is mined.
Please share your thoughts about the above video in the comments section below. If the never-boring silver mining industry piques your Foolish curiosity, be sure to add these stocks to your free, personalized watchlist and follow all the precious news to come.