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The word par often conveys mediocrity. If you score par in golf, congratulations: You've just matched the course's intended score for the average player. But in stockspeak, par means $100 per share -- and I now think my top pick in silver will reach that milestone before the decade's done.
I pegged a truly golden opportunity for Foolish investors when shares of Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) smacked a lowly price of just $2.51. The stock has advanced more than 700% during the subsequent 18 months. After a phenomenal run like that, how can I feel so assured of such enormous strength to come? Let's walk through the rationale, beginning with a glimpse of the silver stream specialist's first-quarter earnings.
Silver Wheaton earned $44.6 million for the quarter, and once again excelled at producing unobstructed cash flow with a fresh $57.6 million injection from operations. After producing 5.5 million silver equivalent ounces (SEOs) to start the year, the company reiterated its 2010 production target of 23.5 million SEOs. That mark implies a 35% surge in production over 2009 volumes, even after 2009's 46% increase from the previous year.
This company is quickly growing toward its 2013 target of 40 million SEOs ... yet the stock has only just recently surpassed both the prevailing price of silver and its previous all-time high. Goldcorp's (NYSE: GG ) enormous Penasquito operation continues to meet or exceed ramp-up expectations, and Barrick Gold's (NYSE: ABX ) Pascua Lama looms as another electrifying growth catalyst by 2013.
Although low-cost leaders Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL ) and Silvercorp Metals (NYSE: SVM ) enjoy loyal investor followings of their own -- and deservedly so -- Silver Wheaton's essentially fixed-cost business model offers investors a more reliable means of calculating future cash flows, corresponding to their own anticipated price trajectories for silver. The company is already enjoying an operating margin of $13.16 per silver ounce in the first quarter. If this multiyear bull market trend continues, it will yield expanding cash flows for Silver Wheaton, just as the industry struggles to fast-track mine development in response to sustained demand.
With the world's credit markets still highly uncertain and tenuous, I believe that Silver Wheaton's capacity to provide miners with up-front development capital in return for silver streams will remain in high demand. Punctuating that broader expectation, Taseko Mines (AMEX: TGB ) reported last week that it sold 22% of future gold production from the Prosperity mine to Franco-Nevada for $350 million. Unlike typical royalty arrangements, this deal notably mimics the Silver Wheaton business model.
In conclusion, I believe Silver Wheaton's expanding cash flow, combined with sustained demand for mine development capital, will yield further acquisitive growth and greater shareholder value. Based upon current assets and silver prices, and despite the incredible share advance noted above, I still consider the shares fundamentally undervalued. Coupled with my long-held silver target price of $50 per ounce, I expect that sustained acquisition activity and continued organic growth will propel Silver Wheaton shares into triple-digit territory (adjusting for any splits, of course) by the time this precious-metals bull market reaches its zenith.
Where do you think Silver Wheaton shares -- and precious metals in general -- are headed? Share your opinions in the comment box below.