Gold Miners’ Q1’19 Fundamentals

The major gold miners’ stocks are drifting sideways with gold, their early-year momentum sapped by the recent stock-market euphoria. But they are more important than ever for prudently diversifying portfolios, a rare sector that surges when stock markets weaken. Their just-reported Q1’19 results reveal how gold miners are faring as a sector, and their current fundamentals are way better than bearish psychology implies.

The wild market action in Q4’18 again emphasized why investors shouldn’t overlook gold stocks. Every portfolio needs a 10% allocation in gold and its miners’ stocks. As the flagship S&P 500 broad-market stock index plunged 19.8% largely in that quarter to nearly enter a bear market, the leading gold-stock ETF rallied 11.4% higher in that span. That was a warning shot across the bow that these markets are changing.

Four times a year publicly-traded companies release treasure troves of valuable information in the form of quarterly reports. Required by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, these 10-Qs and 10-Ks contain the best fundamental data available to traders. They dispel all the sentiment distortions inevitably surrounding prevailing stock-price levels, revealing corporations’ underlying hard fundamental realities.

The definitive list of major gold-mining stocks to analyze comes from the world’s most-popular gold-stock investment vehicle, the GDX VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF. Launched way back in May 2006, it has an insurmountable first-mover lead. GDX’s net assets running $9.0b this week were a staggering 46.6x larger than the next-biggest 1x-long major-gold-miners ETF! GDX is effectively this sector’s blue-chip index.

It currently includes 46 component stocks, which are weighted in proportion to their market capitalizations. This list is dominated by the world’s largest gold miners, and their collective importance to this industry cannot be overstated. Every quarter I dive into the latest operating and financial results from GDX’s top 34 companies. That’s simply an arbitrary number that fits neatly into the tables below, but a commanding sample.

As of this week, these elite gold miners accounted for fully 94.3% of GDX’s total weighting. Last quarter they combined to mine 274.4 metric tons of gold. That was 32.2% of the aggregate world total in Q1’19 according to the World Gold Council, which publishes comprehensive global gold supply-and-demand data quarterly. So for anyone deploying capital in gold or its miners’ stocks, watching GDX miners is imperative.

The largest primary gold miners dominating GDX’s ranks are scattered around the world. 20 of the top 34 mainly trade in US stock markets, 6 in Australia, 5 in Canada, 2 in China, and 1 in the United Kingdom. GDX’s geopolitical diversity is excellent for investors but makes it more difficult to analyze and compare the biggest gold miners’ results. Financial-reporting requirements vary considerably from country to country.

In Australia, South Africa, and the UK, companies report in half-year increments instead of quarterly. The big gold miners often publish quarterly updates, but their data is limited. In cases where half-year data is all that was made available, I split it in half for a Q1 approximation. While Canada has quarterly reporting, the deadlines are looser than in the States. Some Canadian gold miners drag their feet in getting results out.

While it is challenging bringing all the quarterly data together for the diverse GDX-top-34 gold miners, analyzing it in the aggregate is essential to see how they are doing. So each quarter I wade through all available operational and financial reports and dump the data into a big spreadsheet for analysis. The highlights make it into these tables. Blank fields mean a company hadn’t reported that data as of this Wednesday.

The first couple columns of these tables show each GDX component’s symbol and weighting within this ETF as of this week. While most of these stocks trade on US exchanges, some symbols are listings from companies’ primary foreign stock exchanges. That’s followed by each gold miner’s Q1’19 production in ounces, which is mostly in pure-gold terms. That excludes byproduct metals often present in gold ore.

Those are usually silver and base metals like copper, which are valuable. They are sold to offset some of the considerable expenses of gold mining, lowering per-ounce costs and thus raising overall profitability. In cases where companies didn’t separate out gold and lumped all production into gold-equivalent ounces, those GEOs are included instead. Then production’s absolute year-over-year change from Q1’18 is shown.

Next comes gold miners’ most-important fundamental data for investors, cash costs and all-in sustaining costs per ounce mined. The latter directly drives profitability which ultimately determines stock prices. These key costs are also followed by YoY changes. Last but not least the annual changes are shown in operating cash flows generated, hard GAAP earnings, revenues, and cash on hand with a couple of exceptions.

Percentage changes aren’t relevant or meaningful if data shifted from positive to negative or vice versa, or if derived from two negative numbers. So in those cases, I included raw underlying data rather than weird or misleading percentage changes. Companies with symbols highlighted in light-blue have newly climbed into the elite ranks of GDX’s top 34 over this past year. This entire dataset together is quite valuable.

It offers a fantastic high-level read on how the major gold miners are faring fundamentally as an industry and individually. While the endless challenge of growing production continues to vex plenty of the world’s larger gold miners, they generally performed much better in Q1’19 than today’s low gold-stock prices reflect. Last quarter was also a big transition one as the recent gold-stock mega-mergers continued to settle out.

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