Surging profits seen as no safety net for winning gold stocks

The Canadian Malartic open-pit gold mine in northwestern Quebec. (Image courtesy of Canadian Malartic)

Don’t be fooled by gold’s rally when Yamana Gold and Agnico Eagle kick off earnings for the industry this week. While the metal’s prices are surging, many of the companies have shut down mines amid the coronavirus pandemic, making this reporting season anything but a sure bet.

Boosted by a jump of about 20% in the metal’s price during the first quarter from a year ago, companies such as Newmont and Barrick are expected to report a double-digit increase in earnings, analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg showed. That stands out in a market where S&P 500 profits are heading for the worst contraction since the global financial crisis.

Companies such as Newmont and Barrick are expected to report a double-digit increase in earnings

Whether that can last is another question, according to some analysts. From Yamana Gold and Agnico Eagle, miners have reduced or halted production as governments impose emergency regulations to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, investors will likely scrutinize their ability to maintain a steady production.

Meanwhile, the use of cash will be closely watched so that the industry doesn’t repeat the mistake in the early 2010s, when a surge in gold prices led to a ramp-up in capital spending, a glut of supply, and eventually a crash in prices and loads of bad debt.

The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index has climbed 15% this year, compared with a 10% decline for the S&P 500. At 43 times earnings, gold miners were traded a multiple that’s more than double the market’s.

The group’s stock reactions to the first-quarter results “may take a pause,” said National Bank Financial analyst Mike Parkin. He said he expects “a greater focus likely tied to major changes to free-cash-flow outlooks and the ability to manage the operating base through the pandemic.”

The short-term production disruptions, due to Covid-19, will hurt gold miners’ near-term financial results, Stifel Canada’s analysts led by Tyron Breytenbach wrote. However, “the industry overall has strong balance sheets and the underlying business in the medium and long-term term will be unaffected by the virus,” the analysts added.

Still, the suspension of mining may prompt miners to adjust their costs, creating “estimate comparability” issues, RBC analyst Josh Wolfson wrote. Moreover, these interruptions could reduce productivity, delay capital spending and slow exploration, which could spur changes in 2020-2021 guidance, Wolfson added.

At CIBC, Anita Soni agreed that the operational results are likely to be “mixed and messy” and further clouded by “the normalization of costs” due to curtailments, rendering consensus estimates less meaningful.

(By Aoyon Ashraf)

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