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Under normal circumstances, I might feel pretty satisfied with a 60% return year-to-date from the stock I offered as my top pick for 2011. But these are not normal circumstances.
AuRico Gold (NYSE: AUQ ) has proven abnormally masterful in its execution of one of the more remarkable turnaround stories this Fool has recently observed, and I view the resulting recovery in the shares as just reward for that array of accomplishments. All within the past year, AuRico Gold (formerly Gammon Gold) has:
- Achieved a 44% increase in gold-equivalent production from its flagship Ocampo mine at costs that rival those of industry leaders Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) and Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY ) .
- Discovered new high-grade resources near existing mining operations, placing some of those immediately into production.
- Emerged victorious from a hotly contested bid to acquire producer Capital Gold and its enticing array of projects in the development pipeline.
- Returned the previously discontinued El Cubo mine to commercial production.
With those and other meaningful achievements already behind the company, one might be tempted to expect a more muted forward trajectory for the stock relative to its peers. However, AuRico continues to place its golden ducks in a row; building a platform for sustained long-term growth momentum that I still consider virtually unrivaled in the industry.
Although the subsequent emergence of similarly dramatic turnaround stories in the making -- like that of Brigus Gold (AMEX: BRD ) -- have pushed AuRico back to third position among my current top 10 picks for gold, my outlook for continued outperformance for AuRico's shares remains etched in gold and silver.
So before you consider looking anywhere else, be sure to consider the full range or remaining catalysts that are poised to support AuRico Gold's incredible growth momentum. For starters, release of a preliminary economic assessment remains imminent for the miner's Guadalupe y Calvo development project, and AuRico aims to build the project into its fourth producing mine by late 2013. Meanwhile, AuRico has wasted no time targeting aggressive increases in output from the recently acquired El Chanate mine. The company recently unveiled a low-cost, five-phase strategy to grow daily throughput by more than 85%, to 26,000 tons per day, with an anticipated 1,300% internal rate of return on the first two phases alone. Operations at El Cubo are ramping up toward full-scale production ahead of schedule, and the company is shifting to a mining method called "long-hole stoping" that achieved substantial operational improvements at Ocampo in recent years.
With all of these golden ducks in a row, AuRico increased its 2011 production guidance to between 265,000 and 295,000 gold-equivalent ounces at cash costs between $445 and $475 per ounce. At a time when leading producers Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM ) and Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) are incurring rising production costs per ton, AuRico is bucking that trend convincingly. I know of few operators in the mining world that are firing on all cylinders so convincingly across every aspect of their business, and so I can think of very few gold producers I would rather hold for the long haul.