Image source: Barrick Gold.

What: Barrick Gold Corporation's (NYSE:GOLD) shares rose nearly 38% in February. That's pretty impressive, but not nearly as much as some of its fellow miners. Here's why.

So what: The reason behind Barrick's stock advance is pretty simple: Precious-metals prices have started to advance after a long and painful downturn. Weak global growth and political uncertainty have helped push investors toward safe-haven assets. Gold, Barrick's main commodity, fits that bill.

 But here's the interesting thing: Some precious-metals companies saw their shares advance more than 75%, including Coeur Mining (NYSE:CDE). Why was Barrick's move so "modest" in comparison?

A big piece of the answer comes down to costs. Barrick's all-in sustaining costs for gold are around $900 an ounce. That's comfortably below where the barbarous metal was trading before the recent gold rally. But Coeur's costs, which it expresses in silver equivalent ounces (combining its silver and gold costs into one number), were above the price of silver before silver headed higher last month. In fact, the company's $15.50 all-in costs per silver equivalent ounce are still above where silver has been trading recently.

This makes a big difference, because Barrick is benefiting from higher precious-metals prices, but it isn't the difference between the company surviving or not. Coeur, on the other hand, is more of a marginal miner and needs higher prices for its business model to work. Investors are aware of this fact and simply got more excited about the upside benefit for Coeur of higher prices as compared with Barrick. (That said, investors were far more pessimistic about Coeur's prospects while gold was falling, too.)

Now what: Barrick Gold is probably a good choice for more conservative investors interested in the gold space. Believe it or not, its relatively subdued advance is evidence. While it definitely lacks the upside potential of more marginal players, it's likely to be a survivor even if gold prices head back down and stay there for a while. You can't say the same thing about the marginal miners.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.