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When I selected Gammon Gold as my top stock pick for 2011, I was convinced all the ingredients were in place for the company to execute the most dramatic turnaround story that the industry was likely to witness this year. Incredibly, the company had already earned that distinction even before announcing another masterful acquisition!
AuRico Gold (NYSE: AUQ ) -- formerly Gammon Gold -- announced an all-stock bid this week for fellow turnaround story Northgate Minerals (AMEX: NXG ) . Since Northgate itself earned the No. 2 spot behind Gammon among my top 10 precious-metal picks for 2011, it will come as no surprise to my readers that I am thrilled by the proposed acquisition and the way it combines two exciting growth trajectories that were each primed for long-term outperformance.
Thanks to the deal's powerful 45% premium over the 20-day trailing average of both stocks, Northgate's golden explosion has come to fruition even faster than I imagined. Former Fool contributor Andrew Sullivan also spotted Northgate's emerging turnaround story last year and smartly selected the stock for his Rising Star portfolio.
Although Northgate also operates two gold mines in Australia that are struggling with an elevated cost structure -- and the miner's proposed Kemess Underground project must not be overlooked -- the asset at the heart of AuRico's interest is Northgate's Young-Davidson mine in Ontario, Canada. It has already reached an advanced stage of construction (on time and on budget), and AuRico CEO Rene Marion intends to keep Northgate operating as a separate subsidiary through the critical production ramp-up stage next year to prevent any missteps. After all, Northgate has been developing and mining gold assets for 92 years! The mine is slated to start production during the first quarter of 2012, with an average 180,000 ounces of low-cost gold production per year over a 15-year mine life. Even as construction progresses, ongoing exploration at the site continues to build shareholder value with extremely solid results.
On a pro forma basis, AuRico will command a massive total resource of 18.9 million ounces of gold equivalent. At current gold prices, that equates to a buried treasure worth some $34.6 billion, and that's without even considering the 860 million pounds of indicated copper resource at Northgate's proposed Kemess Underground project. Combined proven and probable reserves will reach 7.9 million gold-equivalent ounces. AuRico will amass a pro forma cash hoard of $346 million and will target a 54% surge in production to reach 733,000 ounces of gold equivalent by 2013.
With this intriguing strategic move, AuRico Gold leaps into a vastly improved geographical profile with assets in three of the world's leading precious-metal jurisdictions. If the prior Capital Gold acquisition was about building what I characterized as "a dominant market presence among mid-tier miners in Mexico," then this Northgate transaction signals AuRico's unmistakable arrival on the world stage as one of the premier mid-tier gold miners. Together with New Gold (AMEX: NGD ) -- a truly formidable growth story in its own right -- AuRico epitomizes the early stage trajectory of emerging global leaders in the mid-tier space. Now legitimately in the chase behind larger mid-tier peers like Eldorado Gold (NYSE: EGO ) and Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY ) , I expect AuRico to enjoy lasting growth momentum as the company works through its rich development pipeline (while remaining vigilant for additional strategic acquisitions).
The indispensable art of dealmaking
Because so many of gold miners continue to languish with bargain valuations despite gold's relentless ascent, I expect consolidation to remain a major story within the industry for some time. Given that expectation, investors would do well to consider the dealmaking prowess of companies they select as their preferred precious-metal vehicles. New Gold has certainly proven its mettle in this regard, while Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) has reigned supreme as the "master crafter of deals." After snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in a hotly contested bid for Capital Gold and spoiling the party for recent Northgate acquisition target Primero Mining (NYSE: PPP ) , AuRico's Marion and his team have demonstrated ample skill at executing the right deals at the right time. I predict that will serve the company very well over the coming years.
The greatest gold stock for new money now
As recently as Friday, I reiterated my selection of Northgate Minerals as the pick of the litter for Fools looking to initiate or increase their exposure to gold at this juncture. Now that some of the easy money has been made there -- and notwithstanding my strong conviction that AuRico Gold is one gold stock Fools will wish to hold for the long haul -- I am forced by these developments to select another favorite gold stock for new money now.
This time, look no further than that very same Primero Mining that previously intended to join forces with Northgate Minerals. It was only just last month that Northgate Minerals' proposed deal with Primero led me to bump Northgate up to pole position as the greatest gold stock in the world. Immediately before that announcement, Primero had already earned the No. 2 spot among my top 10 gold stocks for new money now; only now Primero has emerged even stronger than before!
For starters, Primero recently added a U.S. listing on the NYSE, availing the stock to a new demographic of investors who may have been timid about venturing onto the pink sheets for access to Primero's stock. Along with that enhanced accessibility comes the profoundly improved visibility that came with headlines touting Northgate's now-scrapped deal with Primero. Whereas I believe Primero previously suffered in relative obscurity as the investment world failed to adequately notice its dramatic launch last year, the attention garnered by the prior arrangement with Northgate has ensured the profitable miner its rightful place in the golden spotlight. And let's not forget the $25 million consolation prize that Primero just received from Northgate. For a company with a $316 million market cap, that's about as real as fiat money gets! And finally, Primero CEO Joe Conway (formerly CEO of IAMGOLD) indicates he has already received "a number of inbound calls" from parties who may be interested in striking a deal with the deeply undervalued producer.
I encourage Fools to review my initial analysis of Primero's founding transaction to get more familiar with the company and its powerful upside potential. I believe an alternate strategic deal will soon be in the works and remain convinced that the market's valuation of Primero's world-class San Dimas mine is as severely dislocated from any notion of fair value as one can hope for when targeting an ideal investment vehicle for gold. I remain similarly bullish toward fellow juniors Brigus Gold and Claude Resources, but after this week's overdone sell-off, I consider Primero Mining the ultimate opportunity in gold.