After analyzing the gold and silver markets in great detail over the course of this secular bull market, I see silver surging higher than most folks may imagine as our simultaneous debt and currency crises continue to unfold on the world's stage.
Embarking upon my annual exercise to identify the greatest investment opportunities for the coming year among the miners of silver, I was struck anew this year by the astoundingly small number of primary silver producers to select from that stand above my $200 million minimum market capitalization requirement. I own shares in a bunch of micro-cap silver names that I fully expect to yield dramatic multibagger returns as the silver price trends much, much higher. For discussions of those sorts of higher-octane micro-cap plays, Fools will find helping hands within the Motley Fool CAPS community from such frequent contributors as skypilot2005 and SN3165.
For purposes of the present list of top silver picks for 2013, however, only companies valued above $200 million were considered to emphasize established producers that are more suited to a wide range of investment objectives and styles. This year, I will begin with a list of my top five picks below, and follow up with my preceding five selections (picks 10 through six) early in the New Year. Because I have plenty to share regarding each of these selections below, let's jump right in with my no. 5 pick for 2013 and count down the list from there.
5. Aurcana (AUNFF) (Ticker "AUN" on the Toronto Venture Exchange)
After touching a 2012 high of $1.30 just a few months ago, shares of Aurcana have corrected powerfully along with the remainder of the silver patch heading in to the year-end. Meanwhile, the company's better-late-than-never declaration of commercial production at the Shafter mine in Texas a couple of weeks back marked a significant milestone that appears to have been summarily ignored by the market. I visited the Shafter mine back in June for the commissioning ceremony, and interviewed CEO Lenic Rodriguez several months before at a conference in Vancouver. At the time, Aurcana beamed with confidence regarding an incredible production growth spurt in the making, and now that Shafter has achieved commercial production we will see whether this budding mid-tier producer can come through with the ambitious initial production goal of 3.8 million silver ounces in its first full year of operation .
While recognizing some of the logistical challenges that could intervene -- including the ongoing process of hiring and training mine personnel -- my strong impression of Lenic Rodriguez is that he possesses an uncanny knack for generating excitement internally around each of the company's successive near-term priorities. Even allowing for a minor hiccup or two along the way, I conservatively envision an advance of 30% to 50% during 2013 from this stock's 2012 year-end close.
4. Endeavour Silver (EXK -4.80%)
This exceptionally well-managed silver producer commands careful attention from investors at this juncture, since here beneath $8 per share this stock is dramatically disconnected from fair value. Endeavour's acquisition of the previously mismanaged El Cubo mine from AuRico Gold (NYSE: AUQ) earlier this year was a bold and cunning maneuver to leverage the company's proven capacity to generate shareholder value by efficiently turning struggling operations into mines of Endeavour's signature quality.
Only this time, they've taken on a far bigger challenge than they've ever faced before, and so naturally the investment gains that would result from the completion of an effective and timely turnaround of the El Cubo complex are multiplied accordingly. Knowing this management team as well as I do, following a pair of visits to Endeavour's Guanajuato area operations, I am extremely comfortable investing in a successful outcome at El Cubo.
I had the opportunity to visit the El Cubo mine for myself just a short time after Endeavour had taken the reins, and I found the company already making important progress in mine productivity, safety, and profitability. Ultimately, I believe that the ongoing turnaround at El Cubo could help propel Endeavour's shares beyond $20 apiece, while for the year 2013 I'm looking for a return of 40% to nearly $11.
3. SilverCrest Mines (NYSEMKT: SVLC)
From anticipated 2012 production of 2.2 million silver-equivalent ounces (SEOs), SilverCrest is reaching for a near-doubling of output within the next two years through the expansion of the company's Santa Elena mine in Mexico's Sonora state. This gold-heavy operation is in full expansion mode entering its third full year in operation , building mill capacity in advance of forthcoming production from the underground component of the resource and a nearby satellite deposit called Cruz de Mayo. With $47 million in cash and equivalents -- and strong strategic partners like 20% life-of-mine gold-stream holder Sandstorm Gold (SAND -2.91%) and 8% equity stakeholder Sprott Asset Management -- I believe SilverCrest possesses uncommon financial flexibility for a company of its scale as it looks to execute growth and exploration at Santa Elena while assessing the economics of a potential second mine at La Joya.
Weighing in with an impressive inferred resource of 51 million silver ounces with very substantial gold and copper by-products , the low-grade La Joya project in Durango state will reach an important milestone during the first half of 2013 with the release of a preliminary economic assessment. A related update to the resource estimate is a touch behind schedule, but I take that as a good sign. With recent exploration results, including a thick 80-meter interval of mineralization at above-average grades for the deposit , I suspect the company is eager to hold the revised estimate back to include more results from the 2012 drilling campaign.
Because I anticipate sustained long-term pricing strength from all three metals targeted at La Joya, I am eager to see where the economics stand on a conceptual open pit operation at La Joya based upon trailing average metal prices.
I believe this stock has the potential to double during 2013 if growth initiatives progress well and precious metal prices surge as I suspect they will. More conservatively, I'll be surprised if we close the year 2013 with anything less than a 50% advance from the current price.
2. Alexco Resource (AXU -0.80%)
I'm very excited about the position of this stock as we head into 2013, and consider Alexco among the clearest and lowest-risk investment opportunities in the industry. Here under $4, these shares are simply being given away.
This hybrid mining company combines a massive district-scale land position controlling the legendary Keno Hill silver district in Canada's Yukon province, with a fascinating environmental remediation services unit that grants the company a unique competitive niche within the silver industry. Alexco's inaugural Bellekeno mine complex has begun to correct some early operating challenges during its second full year in operation in 2012, and now looks to the addition of two new mine sites in 2013: high-grade silver deposits nearby called Lucky Queen and Onek.
By progressing through a long succession of high-quality deposits in varying stages of exploration and development, Alexco is poised to launch organically into the silver industry's coveted mid-tier space.
In addition to the looming mine start-ups at Lucky Queen and Onek, major catalyst potential for Alexco's shares during 2013 may be found in the anticipated resource updates for the next major development priorities in Alexco's well-stocked pipeline: the Flame & Moth deposit and the Bermingham deposit. Additionally, I am confident that Alexco will demonstrate positive economics for the processing of historical at-surface tailings material (the Elsa Tailings project) and move quickly to incorporate that low-cost source of pre-ground ore into the district's combined mill feed.
Alexco is a fascinating developing story, and a terrific long-term investment opportunity. I believe that 2013 will see an appropriate repricing of the shares to reflect the low-risk nature of the company's organic growth potential, while my longer-term price objective calls for a major multibagger performance in the making. For 2013, provided the above-listed catalysts play out according to plan, I'm looking for at least a 60% gain to $5.50 or better.
1. First Majestic Silver (AG -5.57%)
Combining surprisingly robust upside potential for a company of its size, with what I consider the lowest investment-risk profile among the miners of silver, First Majestic Silver is the natural choice for my top silver stock of 2013. You see, I'm not just looking for the greatest returns possible. In this risk-laden mining industry, I'm looking for the greatest risk-adjusted returns possible.
Particularly following the market's nonsensical punishment of its shares in response to the hugely exciting (pending) acquisition of Orko Silver, First Majestic is beautifully positioned for a strong rally during 2013 as the company:
- launches Phase 1 commercial production at its emerging flagship Del Toro mine to add roughly 3.6 million silver-equivalent ounces (SEOs) to overall production during 2013;
- progresses that operation straight through to achieve Phase 2 throughput during the second half of 2013, on the way toward truly massive production of 7.2 million SEOs from that one mine by 2014;
- continues to fine tune La Guitarra to maximize productivity of that expanding operation while pursuing district-scale development opportunities through the systematic exploration of known vein clusters throughout the 40,000-hectare property package; and
- reveals a development plan, budget, and timeline for construction of a mine at La Preciosa to begin to demonstrate the full value of the assets being acquired, while generating additional value through the exploration of prospective targets within this expansive project area.
Beyond the suite of specific and very achievable catalysts that I expect will drive share price appreciation of 45% or more during the coming year, another reason that I wanted to place First Majestic at the top of my list relates to the scores of investors out there who are wandering through this precarious financial universe without precious metals exposure whatsoever. For those who may be inclined to consider adding even just one single stock in the sector, I propose that appropriate consideration be granted to First Majestic Silver to fulfill such a role.
By delivering one of industry's most impressive trailing growth trajectories with unrivaled consistency of execution, First Majestic has already demonstrated the strengths that will be required to keep that growth momentum rolling along for years yet to come.
I recently toured several of First Majestic's mines alongside CEO Keith Neumeyer, COO Ramon Davila, and senior personnel from each respective operation. This company's cultural emphasis on cultivating each successive team of non-expat mine managers and unit supervisors from within its expanding suite of operations grants the company considerable flexibility when considering ambitious and opportunistic acquisitions such as the pending Orko Silver transaction. With an extremely capable mine engineering and construction team that just completed an incredible undertaking with Phase 1 completion at the intelligently designed Del Toro mill, I look forward to that team's important role in facilitating subsequent construction at La Preciosa with the team's supremely competitive capital cost structure.