Glory Days at Yamana Gold

No guts, no glory! Shareholders of Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY  ) have required some fortitude over the years to stick with this relative laggard within a red-hot gold market. As just reward for their patience, however, Yamana has clearly turned a corner and is now into solid execution of its ongoing growth spurt. With the "guts" part fully satisfied, investors can now look forward to the "glory" of Yamana Gold.

Yamana achieved 2011 production of 1.1 million gold-equivalent ounces (GEOs) at an incredibly low by-product cash cost of just $50 per ounce. After besting its own cost guidance by nearly $200 per ounce, the company rolled its previous 2011 cost guidance forward into 2012 with a target of less than $250 per ounce. Key to Yamana's exemplary cost structure is by-product copper production from the Chapada mine, where copper output expanded 11% during 2011. Accordingly, the company's substantial discovery at Corpo Sul -- which is likely to extend the mine life and sweeten overall grades at Chapada -- offers a long-term scope to Yamana's peer-crushing cost structure.

Meanwhile, Yamana retains one of the industry's elite growth profiles with a nearly 60% surge in output expected in just three years! Ramp-up continues at the newly inaugurated Mercedes mine in Mexico, and two additional mines are slated for completion during late 2012. Yamana expects to produce between 1.2 million and 1.3 million GEOs during 2012. In 2013, look for the new Pilar mine and an expansion of the Gualcamayo mine to carry output beyond 1.5 million ounces. By 2014, the company intends to achieve a sustainable run-rate of 1.75 million GEOs!

Incredibly, despite a very impressive outperformance of the sector during a rough year for gold stocks in 2011, Yamana continues to trade beneath its multi-year high struck all the way back in 2008 (when gold changed hands for about $1,000 per ounce) before the biggest gut-checking gold correction of this precious-metals bull market to date. The stock has appreciated 53% since I hailed Yamana as the best bargain in gold about two years ago, and a cozy 306% since I advised Fools that "Yawanna Have Yamana" in October of 2008. But the stock has far further to run to realize the potential that I've ascribed along the way. Consider the following five-year chart for context:

Yamana Gold Stock Chart

Over the past five years, Yamana's share performance has been lapped by the gilded growth story of Eldorado Gold (NYSE: EGO  ) , and trounced by Goldcorp's (NYSE: GG  ) storied ascent. Both of those companies made my top ten list of gold stocks for 2012, and both sport gorgeous profiles for sustained production growth of their own over the next few years. Although the trailing gains of both stocks are well deserved, the relative gap in Yamana's trailing performance is difficult to justify by a comprehensive comparison of their respective achievements. In that regard, I remind Fools that I believe the market has failed to properly account for the significance of the gold stream that Goldcorp and fellow joint-venture partner XSTRATA must pay to Yamana once the Agua Rica project begins production, sometime around 2016.

I have tracked the progression of every U.S.-traded gold producer quite carefully over the last several years, and I find no rational cause whatsoever for Yamana Gold to be underperforming the benchmark of the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSE: GDX  ) over the past five years. I consider the $30 fair value I placed on the shares last year a thoroughly conservative target at this juncture, and I strongly encourage investors to stick around for the hard-earned glory days ahead at Yamana Gold.

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Fool contributor Christopher Barker can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He tweets. He owns shares of Eldorado Gold, Goldcorp, and Yamana Gold. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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