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The first two steps of a rumba will take you one step forward and one step to the side. With two mines moving in different directions this week, Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) may be moving to this classic Latin rhythm.
Left foot forward
Goldcorp stepped smoothly into the early completion of a key second sulphide processing line at its emerging flagship Penasquito mine in Mexico this week. In the line's initial days of operation, Goldcorp reported peak throughput rates in excess of design capacity. By doubling mill capacity and proceeding to the final phases of construction, Goldcorp remains on track to achieve the mine's designed capacity of 130,000 tons per day by early 2011. Along the way, management expects Penasquito to yield 180,000 ounces of gold in 2010; and ramp up from there to record a long-term annual average of 500,000 ounces.
Penasquito remains the critical springboard of Goldcorp's aggressive production growth plan. With incredible dance partners found in valuable byproducts like zinc and lead -- not to mention more than 25 million ounces of annual silver production beginning in 2012 -- Penasquito is dancing right into its position as a superstar among the world's leading gold mines. The industry's two principal non-mining entities -- namely Royal Gold (Nasdaq: RGLD ) and Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW ) -- each have a stake in Penasquito's success.
Although Goldcorp's leading cost profile among industry majors was recently eclipsed by rival Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM ) , Goldcorp's five-year forecast for costs beneath $300 per ounce (using a conservative basis of $1,000 gold and $16 silver) telegraphs a dominant position on the profitability scale. Over that same period, it is expected that production will rise by nearly 50% to 3.8 million ounces per year. As a result, over the long haul, I expect the cash flow from cash cows like Penasquito to boost Goldcorp's proven record as a leader in the industry's long-running consolidation trend.
Right foot sideways
The outlook for Goldcorp's Marlin mine in Guatemala has been muddied by an ongoing action of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH). Although the Guatemalan government has said it wasn't able to verify claims by nearby community groups regarding water pollution or related health impacts from the mine, it is complying with the commission's request to suspend operations pending further investigation. According to Guatemala's mining ministry, the suspension process alone could drag on for months, and Goldcorp confirms that the mine continues to operate in the interim.
The mine produced 275,000 ounces of gold in 2009, making Marlin Goldcorp's third-largest producer by volume. Clearly, any lasting suspension of mining activity would represent a significant step backward for a company that's well accustomed to moving forward.
All eyes forward
The emerging uncertainty surrounding the Marlin operation is an unfortunate development for a company that has been hitting its stride on all fronts over recent years. Ultimately, I expect imminent strength in gold prices to effectively counteract any ill effect from this singular snag, and I continue to rate Goldcorp as a superior choice among major gold miners. If chasing a red-hot growth stock near its 52-week high is just not your style, consider this low-cost producer that I have routinely highlighted as the most persistent bargain in gold: Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY ) .