Precious metal stocks have sorely underperformed the U.S. equity markets over the last year or so. SPDR Gold Trust (ETF) (NYSEARCA:GLD), which tracks the price of physical gold, gave negative returns of 5 percent the last year.
The decline has been even stronger in the last six months during which the fund lost more than 10 percent. Reasons behind this fall are not difficult to track; with the equities boom in major markets across the world, investors are spoiled for investment choices and have often managed higher return from other asset classes.
The impact of this fall in gold prices has been severe on gold mining firms too as stock prices of most companies are substantially off their highs seen in 2010. To some extent, inconsistent accounting practices employed by smaller companies which earned the sector a bad name are also responsible. As such, many analysts feel the days of depressed valuations are not likely to be over in hurry but trying to choose winners is more like catching a falling knife.
Not all is lost
Given this background, it is no wonder that stock prices in the sector are low but what is going almost unnoticed, by a large part of the market, is the gradual recovery in gold demand. In recent months, central banks of South Korea, Russia and Kazakhstan turned into net buyers of the metal.
While bank of Korea termed the development a part of its long-term diversification strategy, purchases by Russia and Kazakhstan deserve special mention for being net buyers for the fourth consecutive month in January. Gold buying by central banks is a routine task, but the sheer size of their purchases allows them to affect gold prices substantially.
For example, Bank of Korea boosted its gold reserves by 20 metric tons in one go to close its February tally at 104.4 metric tons. This buying is a bullish indicator for gold stocks which, by the virtue of being at the receiving end for many months, are looking attractively priced.
Royal Gold, Inc (NASDAQ:RGLD) (TSE:RGL) is one such player which is currently trading at levels last seen in May 2012. At the current price of $67, the stock is available at a premium of just 18.5 percent from its 52-week low and at forward price earnings of 26. Against this price, the company has a cash hoard of $10.6 per share. Book value of $36.2 per share and very small debt on balance sheet are other factors which make this stock worthy of consideration.
Despite the headwinds, the company has managed to turn in excellent performance in recent quarters with revenue and profits rising 16 percent in the most recent one. It is also worth noting that UBS AG (NYSE:UBS) and MLV & Co. have buy rating on the stock with target price of $90 and $92 respectively.
Quite similar is the case with Allied Nevada Gold Corp. (NYSEAMEX:ANV) (TSE:ANV) which has been hitting new yearly lows so far this year and has lost more than half of its market capitalization during the last six months.
Although quarterly revenue more than doubled, it was the poor show at net levels which dragged the stock. Notwithstanding the revenue growth, profit during the latest quarter dropped to $16.1 million from $18.2 million a year ago.
There was a substantial time lag between mining activity and revenue growth this year as nearly 72 percent of its total 2012 output was mined in the second-half of the year and a large portion of this output is yet to be recovered from the leach pads due to extremely cold and wet weather conditions in December.
This presents an opportunity as delayed sale, coupled with prospects of higher commodity prices, is expected to lead to better financial performance in the coming quarters.
Golden Star Resources Ltd. (NYSEAMEX:GSS) (TSE:GSS) is the smallest of the pack with a market capitalization of just $426 million. Like other industry players, it has been trending down in recent months although the severity has been somewhat less in this case.
Being one of the smaller players in the industry, it is not covered by many analysts but its financial performance has been on a mend after swinging to a loss in September quarter. For the December quarter, the company reported a 26 percent revenue growth to $149 million while profit jumped by a similar factor to $9.1 million. In comparison to this decent show, the stock price is heavily discounted with a forward price earnings multiple of just 5.2. Its market price of $1.65 is dangerously close to the book value of $1.67 even though debt levels are not arduously high.
Overall, gold mining stocks appear to be oversold and underowned at the moment while demand scenario is gradually improving. Analysts believe the yellow metal, which has historically served as an effective hedge against risk and inflation, will get more demand from investors in the second-half of the year which is when a recovery in gold stocks can also be expected.