What is it with gold and silver? One minute nobody wants the stuff because they (rightly) think it's more productive to invest money in companies that actually produce new wealth, and then, before you know, it the price of the shiny stuff is heading skywards again.
Gold has climbed by 13% since the end of 2015 and now sells for $1,200 an ounce, with some City pundits calling for $2,000 before much longer (but they have to have their fun, don't they?), and silver is up 10% to $15.30. So should we be buying the miners who delve for this desirable glittery dirt?
After a lacklustre 2015, shareholders in Centamin(LSE: CEY), which extracts the yellow metal mostly from its Sukari mine in Egypt, have been enjoying a recent boost. The shares are up 29% since 20 January, to 78.9p, rising more than twice as fast as gold itself over a similar period. The firm's January Q4 production update helped, reporting a 16% rise in full-year production to 439,072 ounces -- at the upper end of previous guidance.
Centamin has endured two years of crashing earnings, but a gold turnaround could see a brighter year in 2016.
There's an even better story at Randgold Resources(LSE: RRS), where we've seen a 45% share price rise so far in 2016, to 5,975p. Randgold, whose mining operations are mainly in Mali, also released an upbeat final quarter in 2015, with chief executive Mark Bristow talking of "one of the best years in the company's history". The firm reported record annual production of 1.2 million ounces, up 6% on 2014, with production costs down.
Randgold has seen double-digit earnings falls for three years in a row, but there's an uptick of 15% on the cards for 2016 -- and that's largely based on forecasts that are lagging the gold price rise. The downside, however, is that the consensus suggests a rather high P/E of 37.
Fresnillo(LSE: FRES) benefits from the price rises of both gold and silver -- it's the world's largest producer of silver from ore, and Mexico's second-biggest gold miner. The share price has suffered a slump over several years with earnings declines accelerating in the past two years -- EPS fell by 81% in 2014, after a 58% fall in 2013.
But there's a big EPS rebound of 150% predicted for the year just ended and a further 81% penciled in for this year, but we're still looking at a 2016 P/E of nearly 40. Still, the renewed interest in precious metals has given Fresnillo a boost too, with the shares putting on 37% since 20 January, to 887p.
Glittery enough for you?
Should you buy any of these to take advantage of further gold and silver rises? Well, don't forget that gold is actually very expensive to get out of the ground and into the shiny form that people want -- Randgold's cost is around $680 an ounce. And that's the reason for the extreme volatility of these stocks, as their profits are geared-up from the metal prices -- at today's prices, profits should rise about twice as fast as gold prices.
But profits will fall twice as fast if gold drops again, and I'm nowhere near as convinced as some pundits that we're in for a bull-market. But if you like the roller-coaster ride that is gold itself, then perhaps you'll relish the white-knuckles that come with buying gold miners.
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Alan Oscroft has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.