5 Silver Miners Generating Cash that can wait out the Downturn

Attracted by shiny things? This sector is looking rather flashy.

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Since reaching an all-time high of nearly $50 per ounce in April 2011, silver has been crushed, falling over 60%.   Following silver prices down were the stocks of those who mine the metal.

It was in the mining stocks where the real carnage occurred with many weaker players falling over 80% and some stumbling more than 90% from the highs reached in 2011.  Some extreme value may very well exist in these smaller names.  Our focus with this post however is on the miners that have continued to generate cash in this weak pricing environment.  While the stocks of these players fell more in line with the price of silver, the stability of being able to generate cash will allow them to continue to grow without the need for additional financing – something that is nearly non-existent in today’s market.

First Majestic Silver Corp. 

The owner and operator of five producing silver mines, First Majestic Silver Corp. (TSX: FR) has managed to keep its financial head above water.  The miner’s five producing properties as well as six additional prospective properties are all located throughout Mexico.  The company is focused on Mexico for several reasons including political stability, acceptance of foreign capital, modern infrastructure and free trade agreements with Canada, Europe and the United States.

First Majestic recently released its second quarter financial results which revealed record production of 3,267,117 ounces of silver equivalent and continued positive cash flow from operations despite management’s decision to suspend the sale of approximately 700,000 ounces of silver due to low prices.  While the company’s earnings fell from $0.14 per share to $0.00 per share, management expects cash costs to decrease in the second half of this year as a result of cost-cutting and improved operating parameters.   The balance sheet remains strong with $78.9 million in cash, total assets of $870.3 million and total liabilities of $243.95 million.

Pan American Silver Corp.

With seven producing mines in four countries, Pan American Silver Corp. (TSX: PAA) is the most diverse of the selected miners for this article.  The company has three operating mines in Mexico, two in Peru, one in Bolivia and one in Argentina.  In addition, the company has development projects located in the United States, Mexico and Argentina.

The recent earnings announcement by Pan American was anything but stellar.  The company missed on its revenue estimates and fell $0.13 short of net income per share estimates.  The company did manage to eke out operating cash flows before interest and income taxes of $23.7 million and net cash from operations of $0.5 million.  The company finished its second quarter with cash and short-term investments of $440 million and working capital of $701.1 million.  Management expects to produce 25 to 26 million ounces of silver at a net cash cost of $11.50 to $12.80 per ounce in 2013.

Silver Standard Resources Inc.

Currently relying on its 100% owned Pirquitas Mine located in Argentina as its only producing mine, Silver Standard Resources Inc. (TSX: SSO) continues to produce a small amount of cash from operating activities.  In addition to its producing mine, the company has several projects in various phases of development located in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile and an additional project in Argentina.

Earlier this month, the company reported its second quarter earnings which showed that cash flow from operations had dropped significantly, but still came in at $2.29 million.  While on the earnings front it was certainly a disappointing quarter, the company continues to maintain a substantial cash position of $435.8 million and total liabilities of only $316.18 million.

While the cash and earnings figures were somewhat disappointing, the company reduced its expected cash cost per payable ounce to $14.00 – $15.00 per ounce down from the original expectation of $17.00 – $18.50 per ounce.  In addition, the company continues cut overhead and reduced its headquarters staff by 25%.

Endeavour Silver Corp

Another miner almost entirely focused on Mexico with the exception of an exploration property in Chile is Endeavour Silver Corp. (TSX: EDR).  Currently the company expects silver production to be over 5.0 million ounces with gold production of approximately 46, 000 ounces from its three producing mines.

The company’s second quarter report was as ugly as anticipated, but Endeavour was still able to produce cash flow from operations before working capital adjustments of $11.5 million.  Revenues jumped 76% thanks in large part to a 48% rise in silver production to 1,535,873 ounces and a 159% rise in gold production to 19,914 ounces.  At the end of the quarter the company had cash and cash equivalents of $22.3 million and working capital of $16.1 million.

Silvercorp Metals Inc.

Switching continents from the America’s to Asia gives us Chinese silver producer Silvercorp Metals Inc. (TSX: SVM).  The company currently has multiple producing mines located within China including four mines within the Ying Mining District and the BYP Mine in Hunan Province of which Silvercorp owns between 70% and 80% of the five producing mines.  The company also has three other development projects in China and one development project located in northern British Columbia known as Silvertip.

For its fiscal first quarter ended June 30, Silvercorp reported cash flow from operations of $17.6 million and even net income of $4.6 million despite the current weak market for silver.  The strong results are aided by a cash cost of only $3.23 per ounce of silver at the Ying Mining District which accounts for a significant proportion of the company’s production.  The company’s balance sheet remains strong with $112 million in cash and short-term investments with no long-term debt.

Final thoughts

Silver has seen a nice recovery over the last couple of months and the miners have followed suit, but it is far from certain where the metal heads from here.  It could easily retrace its steps to lower levels putting weaker miners at grave risk.

Playing the miners with strong balance sheets and the ability to generate cash at low prices can give investors firmer ground to stand on until there is a clearer signal that silver is in a longer term uptrend.

Another resourceful opportunity

That being said, there could be a better way to unearth an emerging opportunity in the resource space. Instead of silver, your portfolio could be best served by uranium – the key ingredient for nuclear power. Not only is uranium in demand in places like China, but its price isn’t quite as headline driven, which could make it a more valuable commodity to secure your portfolio.

If you’re curious to learn more about uranium’s power, the Motley Fool has prepared a Special FREE Report that will clue you into the two best uranium companies in Canada. It’s called “Fuel Your Portfolio With This Energetic Commodity,” and you can receive a copy at no charge by simply clicking here!

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Fool contributor Alex Gray does not own shares of any companies mentioned at this time.  The Motley Fool doesn’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned at this time.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium service or advisor. 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, so we sometimes publish articles that may not be in line with recommendations, rankings or other content.

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