What: Silver Wheaton Corp.'s (NYSE:SLW) shares rose a massive 33% in February, a dramatic turn of events for a stock that's watched its price collapse along with the prices of silver and gold. In fact, it's still down more than 65% over the past five years despite the big jump in February.
So what: What changed? Well, the price of silver and gold. And for Silver Wheaton, that's a pretty big deal because of its business model. Most miners have large fixed costs and, in many cases today, heavy debt loads. Silver Wheaton, which gets about 60% of revenues from silver and 40% from gold, is a streaming company. It basically fronts miners like Barrick Gold and Vale (NYSE:VALE) cash for the right to buy gold and silver at reduced costs in the future. This gives the company extremely wide margins.
So when precious-metals prices move higher, Silver Wheaton's revenues increase quickly. While that's true of most miners, there's a difference at Silver Wheaton. First, unlike a miner that may be trying to cover capital spending bills, debt payments, and the like, most of the revenue gain at Silver Wheaton will fall quickly to the bottom line. Second, the company has used the commodity downturn to its advantage.
For example, Vale has been struggling under the weight of a troubled commodities market and was essentially forced into a $900 million streaming deal with Silver Wheaton last year. Deals like this -- there have been several others -- increase Silver Wheaton's production. So as silver and gold rally today, the company is set to earn more because it's producing more. Vale got its cash, but it had to give away the production from which Silver Wheaton is benefiting.
Now what: Silver Wheaton is an interesting way to invest in gold and silver without the risks of running mines. Better yet, it's been able to use the downturn to become a stronger company. With precious metals still well off their highs, if you find yourself interested in the space, you should probably be looking at this company.