Has Silver Wheaton Corp Made the Right Decision?

One of main changes Silver Wheaton (NYSE: SLW) has done last year is to expand its gold operations. This move has substantially increased the share of gold out of the company’s total sales in 2013. Has the company made the right decision? How will this decision affect the company? Let’s examine the advantages and disadvantages of this shift towards gold.

Finding the right mix

The company has increased in the past year its gold operations mainly after purchasing Salobo and Sudbury mines back at the beginning of 2013. The table below shows the changes in the amount of gold, silver and silver equivalent ounces produced.

slw gold silver ratio 2012-2014

Source of data from Silver Wheaton’s website

As you can see from the table above, the company increased its gold production but left its silver operations nearly unchanged in 2013. As a result, gold accounted for 75% of the total precious metals produced last year; a similar rate is expected this year. But if the company keeps purchasing additional gold mines, this could improve its precious metals mix, which could slightly reduce the company’s risk, because Silver Wheaton won’t solely rely on silver. But there is another factor that could reduce the company’s risk — the lower volatility of the price of gold compared to the price of silver.

Volatility

One of the main differences between gold and silver is their price volatility.

The chart below shows the standard deviation of the prices of gold and silver in the past year.

slw silver gold stdSource of data from CME Group 

As you can see, the standard deviation of the percent change of silver is much higher than gold’s. This means, silver is more volatile than gold. In other words, the risk associated with silver is higher than gold. Therefore, the rise in exposure to gold might slightly reduce the risk Silver Wheaton has due to the fluctuations in the prices of precious metals.

But this reduced risk comes at a cost — lower profit margins. 

Profitability may fall

The rise in Silver Wheaton’s gold operations has also cut down the company’s operating profitability. Even though both gold and silver prices tumbled down during 2013, the profitability of silver remained above gold’s.

slw profit margin silver goldSource of data from Silver Wheaton’s website.

The table above presents the average gross profit of gold and silver in 2012 and 2013. It shows that the profitability from selling silver was higher than from selling gold by nearly ten percentage points.

Therefore, if the company keeps increasing its gold operations, the profit margin of Silver Wheaton could diminish; it is likely to come closer to the profitability of companies that mostly sell gold such as   Royal Gold (NASDAQ: RGLD). Back in 2013,Royal Gold’s operating profitability was around 50%, while Silver Wheaton’s profitability was at 55%.

Takeaway

The decision of Silver Wheaton’s management to expand the company’s reach to gold has its advantages including a better mix of precious metals and a slightly lower price risk. But this decision could also reduce the company’s profit margin. This means, even if the prices of gold and silver recover to their high levels from back in 2012 and early 2013, the company’s profitability won’t reach those same profit margins. This development could eventually reduce the company’s dividend payment, which is linked to Silver Wheaton’s operating cash flow. Finally, if the company increases again its gold operations and keep its silver’s production flat, this could reduce further Silver Wheaton’s profitability. 

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Disclaimer: The author holds no positions in stocks mentioned and does not plan to initiate positions within 120 hours of the posting of this article. This article is to be used for educational, research and informational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. There are no guarantees, expressed or implied, of future positive returns in regards to the subject matter contained herein. Understand the risks inherent in investing before making the decision to invest or consult an investment professional for more information. Reasonable due diligence has been performed in regards to the information in this article. However, the author expressly disclaims any liability for accidental omissions of information or errors in fact.