What: AngloGold Ashanti Limited's (NYSE:AU) stock fell a hair over 25% in November. It's down around 50% from its high for the year reached in February. The trend is not AngloGold's friend of late.
So what: The big culprit in AngloGold's descent is the withering price of gold. That, however, is true across the entire precious-metals industry. There's more to the story here.
AngloGold is one of the world's largest gold miners, but, historically, it has also had relatively high costs. For example, in 2013 the company's all-in sustaining costs, a measure of how much it costs to pull an ounce of gold out of the ground, stood at nearly $1,175 an ounce. It dropped that figure to around $1,025 an ounce last year, with a further decrease this year expected to put that number in the $950 to $980 range. For reference, gold has recently been trading hands in the area of $1,050 an ounce.
So, in some ways, AngloGold is moving in the right direction. But competitors are simply better positioned. For example, Newmont Mining's (NYSE:NEM) all-in sustaining cost was $835 an ounce in the third quarter. AngloGold has a lot less wiggle room than Newmont. In other words, falling gold prices hurt more. Moreover, if gold continues to decline, AngloGold could quickly find its mines can't make money. Add AngloGold's healthy dose of long-term debt into the picture, and the problem looks even worse.
Now what: In today's difficult precious-metals market, higher-cost miners with heavy debt loads are best avoided. While a massive gold rally would probably lift AngloGold's shares swiftly, the risk is to the downside today. Risk-averse investors should stick to lower-cost producers that are better positioned to survive falling gold prices.