In a volatile macro environment, follow the cash flow & avoid the debt laden
The USD gold price has rallied +10% this year, following a sustained sell-off post the U.S. election in Nov 2016. Markets remain focused on global growth prospects (and U.S. rate hikes), but rising tensions in the Middle East and Asia, along with concerns around U.S. policy disappointment & the Chinese property market pose risks to the pro-growth trade. We believe the global gold sector presents a compelling investment thesis despite our neutral outlook on gold. Costs have fallen across the sector, lifting free cash flow (average FCF yield of 6% this year), while debt levels are falling (average net debt/EBITDA now 1.2x). The sector is trading on an undemanding 7.6x EV/EBITDA, but we believe the companies best positioned to manage price volatility are still those with the highest quality portfolios. Evolution (13% FCF yield), Barrick Gold (12%) & St. Barbara Mining (10%) are the best cash generators. Newmont (8% FCF yield) has the best balance sheet amongst the majors (0.6x net debt/EBITDA), is trading on 0.8x P/NPV, and is our top pick amongst global majors.
Divergent trends amongst the global large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap sectors
Global gold majors remain focused on reducing costs, increasing cash flow and repairing balance sheets. Gearing amongst majors remains elevated (29% average), offsetting appealing cash flow metrics; we believe the majors will continue to progress longer term growth options while retaining free cash to pay down debt. Mid-cap gold miners are in better positions, with stronger balance sheets & internal growth options. The mid caps are trading on 7.6x EV/EBITDA (8.5x for global majors), highlighting the discount applied by the market for lower reserves. Small cap golds provide compelling value opportunities, with strong cash flow (St Barbara 10% FCF yield, Regis 9%) and the best 3-year production growth prospects across the sector. OceanaGold (Hold) has a clear growth mandate, while Alacer Gold & Dacian Gold (both 0.5x P/NPV) are building new projects, are fully-funded and screen deep value.
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The lack of free cash flow yield was one of the reasons the gold mining sector was unable to perform when gold prices were closer to $1900 because they were investing so much of their revenue and indeed borrowing against it to fund new supply. That all changed when prices declined. Investment was cancelled and a major process of rationalisation ensued. The result is that the gold mining sector generally has sounder balance sheets today than when prices for their products were considerably higher.
The VanEck Vectors Gold Miners ETF has been largely rangebound this year, following the post US Presidential election retreat. It needs to hold the $21 area if potential for higher to lateral ranging is to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Gold exhibits a more convincing upward bias within its range and a sustained move below $1200 would be required to question that condition.
Australian listed Evolution Mining remains a relative performer as its tests the psychological A$2.50 area.
St. Barbara hit a new recovery high last Thursday but has so far been unable to improve upon that performance and has pulled back into the range. The most recent higher reaction low, near A$2.50, will need to hold if the consistency of the rebound is to remain intact.