Hecla: A must-own speculation in silver

This 121-year-old company has among the lowest costs in the mining sector.

By TheStockAdvisors Oct 9, 2012 9:38AM
Image: Metal Bars, CorbisBy Jason Cimpl, Top Stock Insights

There is perhaps no better miner for your buck than 121-year-old Hecla Mining (HL) -- one of the lowest cash cost primary silver producers in the U.S. In 2011, Hecla produced 9.5 million ounces of silver at a cash cost of $1.15 per ounce, leading to record revenue of $477.6 million and earnings of $150 million.

With operations in Alaska, Idaho and Mexico, the company's primary asset is silver, but it also mines gold, lead and zinc in lesser quantities. Hecla represents a unique combination of a miner that is both developed and expanding, giving shareholders stability and a chance to speculate with one stock.

Production problems have resulted in a pullback, dragging the shares down to a two-year low. The company racked up $6.5 million in repair damage at its Lucky Friday mine. At the same time, Hecla witnessed lower grades at Greens Creek amid lower base metal prices.

Fortunately, the repairs are going smoothly. And because the rehab work on the mineshaft is running ahead of schedule, Hecla can expand work on a separate mineshaft at Lucky Friday. This expansion could result in substantially more capacity in 2013.

Hecla is likely closer to re-opening this mine than it's leading investors to believe. In fact, the company re-hired 20 workers in September. Meanwhile, Hecla continues to explore in Greens Creek, San Sebastian in Mexico and San Juan in Colorado.

Production should increase by more than 50%, to 9.5 million, in 2013. The last time Hecla mined that much silver in a year was in 2011 and resulted in a stock price above $10.

Better yet, management believes they can expand production by up to 50% (to 14 million ounces) in five-years as current exploration sites in Mexico and Colorado come online. That production could rocket HL above $20 per share.

The company boasts a strong balance sheet, with $233 million in cash and no debt at second quarter's end. Hecla also increased its revolving credit line to $150 million. With no debt and that available capital, Hecla may soon be in the market to buy out another miner.

Some investors recently wised up to Hecla's growth prospects and cheap stock. But though the shares have risen 70% over the past two months, the stock remains relatively cheap.

Although the shares trade at 36 times the 2012 EPS estimate of $0.18, the stock is priced merely 15 times the $0.44 forward EPS. The average silver industry P/E is 24.

Moreover, the company's board approved a stock repurchase program of up to 20 million shares (7% of the total shares outstanding) of common stock over the next two years. Hecla Mining is a great stock for all investors and a "must own" below $7 for silver seekers.

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