The metals and materials sector, including miners, has been hit hard by the weaker global economy. China’s manufacturing slowdown, the turmoil in Europe, and slow growth in the US have caused prices to fall even as expenses rise. All but three of the companies in this survey have had their target prices lowered in the past three months, a further signal that weaker revenues and profits may be in store for 2012.
The companies we examined were United States Steel Corp. (NYSE: X), Nucor Corp. (NYSE: NUE), Steel Dynamics Inc. (NASDAQ: STLD), Newmont Mining Corp. (NYSE: NEM), Barrick Gold Corp. (NYSE: ABX), Silver Wheaton Corp. (NYSE: SLW), Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc. (NYSE: FCX), Southern Copper Corp. (NYSE: SCCO), Alcoa Inc. (NYSE: AA), and Molycorp, Inc. (NYSE: MCP).
Since November, gold prices have gained about 3%. Silver prices are essentially flat, and copper prices are up by about 5%. Titanium prices are about 6% lower, steel prices have been falling and are now about 7% lower than in November, and rare earth minerals exports from China were below expected levels in 2011, causing a price drop in the latter part of the year. Chinese production projections for 2012 are roughly equal to the 2011 production quota of 31,000 metric tons.
Newmont’s consensus target price has fallen from $81 in November to $77.92. At a current price this morning of $62.98, Newmont’s implied gain is 23.7%. Since the beginning of the year, the stock has gained more than 5%, with a 12-month share price gain of about 6.8%. The company raised its quarterly dividend to $0.35, a jump of 133%, following a pledge to raise dividends if gold price targets were met. The company’s dividend yield is now 2.3%.
Barrick’s target price has also been cut, from $68 to $64.72. At its current price of $49.62, Barrick’s implied gain is 30.4%. Year-to-date shares are up about 9.6%, but for the preceding 12 months, Barrick’s stock is down 5.6%. Shares are trading at less than 6% away from the 52-week high of $55.95. Over the past month, Barrick’s shares have gained 12%.
Molycorp’s target price fell from $70 to $52.83. At a current price of $28.68, the potential upside is a whopping 84%. Molycorp’s shares have lost about 38% in the past 12 months, though since January shares have risen about 20%. The company is expected to report EPS of $0.41 on revenue of about $135 million after markets close today. The company has begun a phased launch of its new manufacturing facility and expects to produce 19,050 metric tons of oxides by the end of the third quarter. That would be good news if prices weren’t falling.
US Steel’s target price remained nearly flat from November’s $34.50 to today’s $35.21. At the current price of $28.19, the implied gain is 24.9%. Falling steel prices in the fourth quarter hurt all steel makers. Global crude steel production grew 6.8% in 2011, which combined with a slower growing economy depressed prices. Global production was down -7.8% year-over-year in January, which could herald a comeback in pricing.
Nucor’s target price has risen from about $45 to $48 since November. At the current share price of $43.44, the potential upside is 10%. Two recent analyst downgrades have chopped share price gains, but Nucor’s stock is still up nearly 10% since January.
Freeport-McMoran’s target price actually rose from$53 to $55.28 in the last three months. At the current share price of $43.89, the potential upside for the stock is 26%. Freeport had a lousy fourth quarter, due mainly to labor strife in Australia. Slowly rising copper prices should help, but production may have to be reined in to keep prices moving up.
Silver Wheaton’s consensus target price fell from $49.50 to $47.80, while the share price has gained more than 26% in three months. At the current share price of $39.29, the implied gain here is 21.7%. Silver prices are roughly flat since November, and unless they improve, Silver Wheaton’s share price won’t either.
Alcoa’s target price has dropped from $13 to $11.53 since November. At the current price of $10.46, the implied gain in Alcoa stock is about 10%. Alcoa appears to have little attraction at its current share price, which is more likely to suffer than prosper from a glut of aluminum.
The target price for Steel Dynamics has risen from $16 to $18 in the past three months. At the current price of $14.75, the implied gain in the stock is 22%. As with US Steel, whether or not Steel Dynamics has a chance to add value depends on demand for steel and what that will do to prices if production continues to grow.
Southern Copper’s target price hjas fallen from $36.25 to $35.58. At the current price of $33.45, the implied gain for Southern Copper is 6.4%. The only thing that will boost Southern is a rise in copper prices.
The underlying softness in commodity prices makes any play other than gold a risky choice. Newmont and Barrick, the two gold producers in this bunch, offer significant upside potential, and rising gold prices should help, provided the miners can keep costs under control.