Great magicians will never reveal how they accomplish their seemingly impossible feats. But, when a company possesses the magic touch, we investors have a chance to peek behind the curtain.
First Majestic Silver (NYSE: AG ) made 2.1 million silver-equivalent ounces appear from out of the ground during the second quarter, recording 14% production growth to yield mine operating earnings of $31.1 million. Following the key expansion at La Parilla and the addition of a third ball mill at La Encantada, the company processed 28% more ore than in the prior-year period, and certainly made the most of it by lowering its per-tonne cost by 10% to a very lean $26.97 per tonne. The miner's cash cost of $8.83 per ounce represents just a 6% increase, which must be considered exceptional given the acute cost pressures affecting the industry at large.
Meanwhile, First Majestic continues to progress smoothly toward its very impressive plan to roughly double annual production to 16 million ounces of silver by 2014. The recently added La Guitarra mine acquired through the Silvermex acquisition is expected to chip in about 400,000 silver-equivalent ounces during the second half of 2012 alone! With a planned 43% expansion of the mill's throughput capacity by the first quarter of 2013, look for La Guitarra's output to easily surpass 1 million silver-equivalent ounces per year in just this first stage of enhancements that the company has up its sleeve.
But, when it comes to mapping out the key growth catalyst in First Majestic's precious bag of tricks, just click your heels and repeat three times: "There's no mine like Del Toro!" From the relatively humble beginnings of a 1,000 tonne-per-day operation due to begin later this year, Del Toro is expected to deliver 6.5 million silver-equivalent ounces during 2014 after a third phase in the mine's ramp-up process brings throughput to a substantial volume of 4,000 tonnes per day. The company was kind enough to send me some photographs of recent construction progress at Del Toro, which remains on schedule with more than 40% of the $58.5 million phase-1 budget committed thus far.
Elements of Del Toro's crushing circuit begin to take shape with the conveyor apparatus at center and the (underground) primary crusher.
Just down-slope from the crushing area, the foreground structure will house milling area, where ball mills and SAG mills will pulverize the crushed ore. The structure just below it, in the background, contains rows of floatation cells to begin concentrating the gold and silver content from within the pulverized-ore solution.
This is a digital rendering of what the finished Del Toro mill complex will look like.
Even as smaller competitors Endeavour Silver (NYSE: EXK ) and Aurcana (OTC: AUNFF) are putting on some rather dazzling displays of silver production growth themselves, First Majestic Silver's bid to achieve 16 million ounces of silver by 2014 will simply provide the greatest show in silver as Del Toro ramps up production over the next few years. Even with new reasons to adore Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) , and higher heights finally on the way for Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL ) , First Majestic Silver offers that magic combination of proven operational excellence and phenomenal growth potential that make it an easy selection as a premier vehicle for precious metals investment exposure. Accordingly, I've designated the stock as a "top pick" within Motley Fool CAPS, and the stock remains a substantial core holding within my own personal stock portfolio as well. To track my ongoing coverage of the precious metal miners, please bookmark my article list or follow me on Twitter.