Streaming company Silver Wheaton (NYSE:SLW) made its reputation by providing financing to silver mining companies, taking full advantage of the boom in silver prices throughout much of the 2000s and early 2010s to build itself into an industry leader. As metals prices have plunged, Silver Wheaton has struggled along with the mining industry, but it has still made some successful moves that have paid off this year. In particular, diversifying into gold streaming has helped give Silver Wheaton a greater ability to profit from lucrative opportunities in the mining industry. That showed in 2015, as the Salobo project with Vale (NYSE:VALE) showed huge growth this year even as many of Silver Wheaton's other key mining partnerships suffered revenue and profit declines. Let's take a closer look at the company's best mining project in 2015 to get some hints as to how Silver Wheaton's future strategy can take advantage of current conditions.
Going for the gold
Silver Wheaton has huge exposure to the silver market, but lately, its deals with gold producers have held up better. The Salobo project has been a game changer for Silver Wheaton in 2015, with the project seeing its overall revenue nearly double during the first three quarters of the year compared to the same period in 2014. Profits have been equally impressive, climbing from $12.3 million in pre-tax operating earnings in the first three quarters of 2014 to $22.8 million over the same period this year.
Salobo came into Silver Wheaton's portfolio back in early 2013. The Salobo stream was part of a bigger deal with Vale in which Silver Wheaton offered the Brazilian miner an up-front payment of $1.9 billion plus warrants to purchase 10 million Silver Wheaton shares over a 10-year period. Of that amount, $1.33 billion was attributable to Salobo, on which Silver Wheaton took a 25% production stream, and the remainder of the purchase price was for production from Vale's Sudbury mining properties. Silver Wheaton also committed to paying $400 per ounce for the gold delivered under the streaming agreement.
In the deal, Silver Wheaton expected average gold production of 60,000 ounces per year over the next 20 years from Salobo. Moreover, with expansion possibilities available, Salobo held promise for future deals with Silver Wheaton.
Betting bigger on Salobo
That's exactly what Silver Wheaton did earlier this year, doubling its stream in the mine to 50% in March. For the additional 25% streaming interest, Silver Wheaton paid Vale $900 million, accepting production under the same $400 per ounce terms as the original agreement.
The deal showed the potential that Silver Wheaton's business model creates. For Vale, the deal allowed the mining company to gain access to much-needed capital at a time when commodity prices had slumped toward their lowest levels in years. With many companies in the mining industry suffering from large overhangs of debt and low share prices that make secondary offerings of stock unattractive, the stream-based financing that Silver Wheaton offers is especially opportune in the present environment.
Don't expect Gold Wheaton
Even though Salobo has been an extremely profitable venture for Silver Wheaton, the company remains committed to its original strategic vision. As CEO Randy Smallwood explained after the Salobo expansion agreement, "With over 70% of global silver production sourced as by-product, we continue to believe that the silver market represents the largest market for streamlining opportunities. However, Silver Wheaton has never been averse to strategically layering additional gold into the streaming mix when the right opportunity presents itself."
Even though gold and silver prices have performed poorly in 2015, Silver Wheaton hasn't hesitated to make strategic moves to boost its exposure and take advantage of current low prices in the precious metals markets. Jumping on the opportunity to double its exposure to Salobo has paid off well for Silver Wheaton this year, and similar decisions could well keep the streaming giant moving forward in 2016 and beyond.
Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Companhia Vale Ads and Silver Wheaton (USA). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.