Gollum's Syndrome: The Burden and the Treasure of Silver's "The Precious"


"We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious!" Channeling J.R.R. Tolkien's Gollum, a second silver miner now joins the quest for Orko Silver's precious.

Coeur d'Alene Mines issued a competing bid Wednesday for Orko Silver and its coveted La Preciosa silver project in Mexico, and Orko's board has blessed the $383 million proposal as a "superior offer" to the preceding courtship of First Majestic Silver . Orko's shares surged by as much as 20% on the news, while Coeur shareholders watched their stock tumble swiftly by 9%.

We'll call that the curse of the ring, since the market has now punished both suitors harshly for their respective pursuits of the precious. First Majestic's shares currently stand roughly 18% beneath their preannouncement close of $22.92, yielding one of the most obvious buying opportunities that I've perceived in the silver industry in quite some time -- perhaps rivaled only by the standout bargain of Endeavour Silver . As I conveyed to my readers when presenting First Majestic as my top choice for silver investment exposure in 2013, the market's demonstrated disdain for this world-class silver project that Pan American Silverwalked away from exactly one year ago is utterly unwarranted!

Like Smeagol, some investors may be hearing nasty voices in their heads, repeating ad infinitum the haunting statement by Pan American that La Preciosa was "unlikely to generate a rate of return that meets Pan American's internal economic hurdle rate." Clearly, two of Pan American's principal rivals vehemently disagree with that assessment, assigning significant economic and strategic value to one of the world's largest undeveloped primary silver deposits. Following "significant diligence conducted," Coeur believes that an open-pit mine at La Preciosa can yield between 7 million and 9 million ounces of silver per year with a mine life greater than 15 years. Whichever of the two suitors walks away with the precious, I suspect that Pan American's decision to abandon the project will not be remembered fondly.

The better competitor
Coeur d'Alene Mines may indeed have sweetened the pot a touch, raising the implied valuation some 25% and offering Orko shareholders a choice between shares, cash, or a combination of both (plus warrants). First Majestic Silver, meanwhile, brings a couple of noteworthy strengths to the table that Coeur simply cannot match.

For starters, First Majestic boasts a massive presence in the area of La Preciosa that will convert to powerful synergies as this project goes forward. The company's new flagship Del Toro mine and recently expanded La Parilla mine are both well within what I would characterize as strategic proximity to La Preciosa, facilitating First Majestic's effective strategy of inter-operation training and personnel rotations to cultivate highly capable operating teams throughout its growing mine portfolio.

And the nearby city of Durango -- just a 29-mile drive down the highway from La Preciosa -- is First Majestic's entire base of Mexico operations, complete with an in-house team of mine engineers and construction personnel that has proved its value in spades with a series of cost-efficient construction projects culminating in the recent completion of the massive mill complex at Del Toro (which I visited in person in November). The company even boasts the capacity to completely rebuild and refurbish scoop mine equipment at its mechanical shop and warehouse, generating substantial savings over services typically provided by the manufacturers. Coeur's major Mexico operation at Palmarejo, meanwhile, stands quite some distance away in Chihuahua.

Finally, the single greatest differentiating factor between Coeur d'Alene Mines and First Majestic Silver -- when it comes to determining which of the two is better positioned to deliver value-generating execution of the La Preciosa project -- can be found in their extremely divergent track records. Over the trailing six-plus years since I mistakenly initiated Coeur d'Alene Mines as an outperform pick within my Motley Fool CAPS portfolio, the stock has cratered by 54% against the backdrop of a powerful 136% advance in the price of silver. On the other hand, First Majestic counts among the industry's elite growth generators, with a steady progression of beautifully executed growth initiatives to yield a 322% gain over the same period.

I've seen First Majestic fine-tune its recently acquired silver guitar, and I've also watched with fascination as Coeur d'Alene Mines failed to renew mining claims at the Rochester mine in Nevada. I know which company I consider more capable of unlocking substantial shareholder value from La Preciosa, and I await with bated breath an effective counteroffer from First Majestic Silver before the Feb. 19 deadline imposed by Coeur's competing bid. I do have skin in this game, as a shareholder of First Majestic who intends to hold his position for the very long haul, but I do believe I have retained objectivity in determining that First Majestic Silver offers the potential for a more lucrative path to production for La Preciosa. I look forward to reading your own thoughts on the matter in the comments section below, and I invite readers to track my ongoing coverage of the silver industry by bookmarking my article list or following me on Twitter.

If you're looking for a company whose success is determined by the metals market, but without involving itself in the risks of physically mining the metals, then Silver Wheaton provides a unique play on the future of silver. Silver Wheaton chooses to finance the mining of silver; it has grown sales and net income every year since 2008 and also has increased competitive advantages over its limited peer group. More details about our outlook for Silver Wheaton can be found here in our Motley Fool analyst report.

The article Gollum's Syndrome: The Burden and the Treasure of Silver's "The Precious" originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Christopher Barker owns shares of Endeavour Silver and First Majestic Silver. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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