This post is a slightly-modified excerpt from a recent TSI commentary.
If you are speculating in gold-mining stocks it is important to have your eyes wide open and to not be hoodwinked by the pundits who argue that the current low prices for these stocks imply extremely good value. The fact is that at the current gold price not a single senior gold-mining company is under-valued based on traditional valuation standards such as price/earnings and price/free-cash-flow. Also, while some junior gold-mining companies are very under-valued, most are not. In other words, the low price of the average gold-mining stock is not a stock-market anomaly; it’s an accurate reflection of the performance of the underlying business.
The relatively poor operational performance of the gold-mining industry is not something new. It is not something that has just emerged over the past few years or even over the past two decades, meaning that it can’t be explained by, for example, the advent of ETFs (the gold and gold-mining ETFs actually boosted the prices of both gold and the stocks owned by the ETFs during 2004-2011). The cold, hard reality is that with the exception of the banking industry, which usually gets bailed out once per decade at the expense of the rest of the economy, since 1970 the gold-mining industry has wasted capital at a faster pace than any other industry. That’s why the gold-mining-stock/gold-bullion ratio is in a multi-generational decline that shows no sign of reversing.
It’s certainly true that a lot of money can be made via the judicious speculative buying of stocks in the gold-mining sector, because these stocks periodically generate massive gains. It’s just that in real terms (relative to gold) they end up giving back all of these gains and then some.