While silver's well-deserved respite from its attention-grabbing rally may have some investors wondering whether the metal has been summarily dethroned, savvy Fools are seizing the opportunity to prepare for a lengthy rule.
Meanwhile, one upwardly mobile noble has displayed a particular knack for enriching its silver-seeking minions. First Majestic Silver (NYSE: AG ) this week vindicated the enthusiasm of a market that has propelled the stock to an epic gain of more than 350% over the past year. The miner produced 1.77 million ounces of silver in the first quarter from its three operating mines in Mexico -- a 25% increase over prior-year volume -- and scored a 211% increase in revenue to reach $55.3 million. Mine operating earnings surged 397% to $35.6 million, while net earnings climbed all the way from breakeven to $0.24 per share. Production costs remain slightly elevated at $8.26 per ounce, but that is par for the course for miners engaged in a meaningful growth spurt.
In an industry dominated by only a handful of major primary silver producers, First Majestic has leapt onto the scene by commanding a formidable $1.8 billion market capitalization -- just over 20% smaller than that of centenarian mainstay Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL ) . First Majestic is targeting 7.5 million ounces of silver production for 2011, and next year portends additional growth with a doubling of production at La Parilla and the addition of a fourth silver mine (Del Toro) beginning in the second quarter of 2012. With larger rival Pan American Silver (Nasdaq: PAAS ) presently stymied by regulatory hurdles in Argentina and worrisome political developments in Bolivia, First Majestic's well-charted path to further production growth offers a compelling option for Foolish silver seekers.
First Majestic has not been spared from the recent market exodus from all things silver. Along with rivals Hecla Mining, Silvercorp Metals (NYSE: SVM ) , and Coeur d'Alene Mines (NYSE: CDE ) , I perceive a glaring window of opportunity for Fools seeking bargain-priced exposure for the next inevitable phase of silver's enduring bull market. For a budding producer like First Majestic, I recommend that Fools combine measured and indicated resources with a company's reserves when assessing value relative to the competition. First Majestic commands a mammoth measured and indicated resource of 118 million ounces of silver, in addition to 46.3 million ounces in reserves. The company's $1.7 billion enterprise value stands at less than 30% the present market value of that combined silver resource. Clearly undervalued Hecla Mining trades at a remarkable discount at 19.8% of the market value of comparable silver (and gold) resources, but I contend that First Majestic's healthy production growth rate places both stocks on a substantially equivalent footing with respect to valuation of established resources.
With my own focus firmly fixed upon a number of red-hot silver growth stocks like Endeavour Silver (NYSE: EXK ) , I haven't paid enough attention to First Majestic. From now on, I will watch the company more closely by using The Motley Fool's My Watchlist feature, and by adding the stock to my CAPS portfolio as an outperform pick. I encourage my fellow Fools to follow suit.