I've just returned from an extraordinary journey of discovery, and garnered the kind of in-depth insight into a company's operations that simply cannot be gleaned in any other way.
I traveled to Mexico to inspect three separate silver mines operated by First Majestic Silver (NYSE: AG ) : one with a recently expanded mill, another mine just recently acquired, and finally the exciting new mine that's quickly taking shape as the company's next flagship mine. As I share my findings from the experience here at The Motley Fool over the coming days and weeks, it is my sincere wish that readers will follow along to enjoy their own inside look at the assets behind one of the silver industry's premier success stories.
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Whether I'm delving into the Earth's crust at Guanajuato to view the gorgeous high-grade ore in Endeavour Silver's (NYSE: EXK ) Bolanitos mine, or venturing to the legendary Timmins gold district in Ontario to confirm the progressing turnaround by Brigus Gold (NYSEMKT: BRD ) , I find nuggets of insight on each of these trips that I'm delighted to share with my readers. In the case of First Majestic, I have so many observations to share that it will take multiple articles to do so. From the surprising scale of upside potential at the La Guitarra mine, to the demonstrable excellence of First Majestic's in-house unit responsible for mine design, engineering, and construction; each of these topics will enhance the reader's understanding of the secrets to this miner's extraordinary success.
Speaking of successful mining, First Majestic released third-quarter earnings last week that revealed a major 36% increase in silver-equivalent production volume over the prior-year period. Even as the company continues to focus upon cost reductions at the newly acquired La Guitarra mine, the company expended only $30.05 for each metric ton of ore mined and processed throughout its operations. With respect to operating efficiency, First Majestic continues to set the standard for the silver industry. For comparison, consider that U.S. rival Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL ) reported a cost of $88.37 per ton (short ton) for the third quarter, reflecting higher mining costs with the increased use of contract labor at Greens Creek. After adjusting for the differing units of measurement, First Majestic's consolidated cost structure is some 69% leaner than that of Hecla's prized Greens Creek mine.
With its elegant design and impressive readiness for fast-tracked expansion, First Majestic's nearly completed mill at Del Toro looks poised to continue the company's success at delivering high-efficiency production from some of Mexico's most precious silver deposits.
In the foreground, one of Del Toro's newly installed ball mills stands ready to begin pulverizing crushed ore once milling operations get under way during December. The cement foundation in the background will hold the semi-autogenous grinding mill that will support Del Toro's first expansion from initial capacity of 1,000 tonnes per day to 2,000 tpd by late 2013. Meanwhile, the completed structure housing Del Toro's nearly completed flotation circuit can be seen on the right-hand side. Photo by Christopher Barker.
In the end, this is what all the bustling activity at the mines boils down to. From this cauldron of molten silver precipitate at First Majestic's La Parilla mine, several bars of precious silver doré -- with a value greater than $30,000 apiece -- are formed in a single pour. Photo by Christopher Barker.
Please keep an eye out for several forthcoming articles, in which I will present findings from my recently completed tour of First Majestic Silver's operations. In the meantime, for a similarly in-depth look at major gold producer Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) , please access my recently completed research report by clicking here.