Amid a welcome patch of near-term weakness for gold mining and exploration stocks, this Fool recently became an active buyer in an array of gold stocks that I believe offer top-quality exposure to an anticipated resumption of the metal's multiyear bull-market blitz.
As an update to my initial top 10 picks for gold and silver in 2011, this two-part series highlights those elite gold stocks that I currently consider the most opportune vehicles for new gold investment. Accordingly, these stocks also figure prominently within my own investment allocation into precious metals, and I personally own shares of all 10 selections. Part 1 of this series highlighted selections 6 through 10 from my golden list, while my top five picks are featured below:
5. Chesapeake Gold (OTC BB: CHPGF)
As a development-stage gold company that so far lacks a listing on a major U.S. exchange, Chesapeake Gold has diligently grown its bounty in relative obscurity. As just reward for venturing onto the "pink sheets" for Chesapeake Gold, investors will gain exposure to one of the world's largest undeveloped gold deposits. Chesapeake's Metates project combines an astonishing 17.2 million ounces of measured and indicated gold resource with a monumental silver kicker of 467 million ounces of silver! Together, these yield 24.4 million gold-equivalent ounces at an average grade of 0.81 grams per ton.
A recently updated preliminary economic assessment assigned the project a net present value of $2.9 billion (5% discount rate) assuming an immensely conservative gold price of $900 per ounce. The plan envisions annual production greater than 1.1 million gold-equivalent ounces over a 20-year mine life. Although construction will be capital intensive with a price tag of $3.16 billion, it could take only four years to recoup that cost. Mackie Research maintains a 12-month price target of nearly $39 for the stock, which implies multibagger upside potential from Tuesday's $11.50 share price.
4. Northgate Minerals (AMEX: NXG )
I've been reminding Fools to consider positioning for Northgate Minerals' golden explosion for months, and patient gold investors continue to await the day when Northgate's powerful prospects are more fully reflected in the shares. Construction of the critical Young-Davidson mine continues right on schedule, and first production now stands about two quarters away. That means Northgate is reasonably likely to achieve its 2012 production target of 300,000 ounces, followed by 350,000 ounces in 2013. Meanwhile, Northgate recently drilled "one of the best holes ever intersected on the property" -- featuring 4.31 grams of gold per ton over a very wide 79.6-meter segment -- from a new discovery zone outside of the existing 2.8 million-ounce reserve.
If Young-Davidson were Northgate's sole asset, these shares would still be undervalued here at about $2.60 per share. With a preliminary assessment looming for the reworked Kemess Underground project, a new drill program at the Awakening Gold project in Nevada, and two operating gold mines in Australia, Northgate figures among the clearest bargains in the gold patch.
3. AuRico Gold (NYSE: AUQ )
Everything has changed for AuRico Gold (formerly Gammon Gold) since I featured the miner as my top pick for 2011. Sporting a new name, a new look, and more importantly a new portfolio of assets featuring the profitable El Chanate mine, AuRico Gold has already achieved multiple elements of the turnaround story that formed the core of my investment thesis. Accordingly, the shares have easily outperformed an impressive array of gold miners so far this year. But, like CEO Rene Marion, my focus remains fixed on the future of the company and the achievements yet to come.
I have highlighted AuRico's pattern of consistent exploration success as a cornerstone of the company's attractiveness, and recent drill results from both Ocampo and El Chanate punctuate the miner's organic growth potential. At Ocampo, AuRico encountered an extremely high grade of 12.36 gold-equivalent ounces (GEOs) across 26.8 meters within the Picacho open pit. With a pending preliminary study of the Guadalupe y Calvo deposit, a fruitful exploration campaign, and continued optimization of operations, I continue to perceive multiple catalysts to sustain AuRico's growth momentum.
2. Primero Mining (OTC BB: MNOCF)
Primero has been mired in unjustified weakness ever since its inception with the purchase of Goldcorp's legendary San Dimas mine. The lack of a listing on a major U.S. exchange is not helping matters, but the company intends to launch such a listing during the third quarter. Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) was so confident that "the true potential of the deposits are neither fully realized nor reflected in the stated reserves and resources," that the company agreed to pay a penalty to silver stream holder Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) for any shortfall beneath 220 million ounces of payable silver production by 2031.
Primero's stock appears to trade as though the stated reserves of 886,090 ounces of gold (plus 62 million ounces of silver) presented a realistic limit to life-of-mine production, whereas a closer analysis reveals those figures are little more than a baseline. With a recent market capitalization of $315 million -- or $185 million beneath last year's founding transaction price -- this valuation is frankly a joke.
1. Brigus Gold (AMEX: BRD )
My recent visit to Brigus Gold's Black Fox mining complex in Ontario left me so utterly confident in the company's gathering growth momentum that I doubled my personal holding and encouraged my readers to dig into this remarkable turnaround story. A rocky path to production for predecessor Apollo Gold may have damaged the mine's reputation among investors, but under Brigus Gold this operation is rapidly hitting its stride. Brigus recently initiated a mill expansion that will bring capacity to 2,200 tons per day, and is mulling a subsequent expansion to 3,500 tons per day to coincide with anticipated production from some remarkable new gold discoveries within the Black Fox complex.
Brigus released a new round of assays from exploration drilling at the exciting 147 Zone, including a breathtaking bonanza intercept of 4,165 grams per ton (133.9 ounces per ton!) over 1 meter; while nearby holes confirmed significant continuity of high-grade gold mineralization at depth (including one 50-meter interval grading 3.96 grams per ton). Click here to see what 4,165 grams per ton of gold looks like in a drill core. The 147 Zone continues to reveal outstanding development potential, facilitated by pre-existing underground infrastructure from historical underground mining nearby, and the deposit remains open to further expansion in all directions.