As I was reviewing the list of stocks hitting 52-week lows this week, I noticed an unusual cluster of stocks: silver-miners. These stocks have been under heavy pressure in recent weeks and are falling anew, leaving them -- at least in the context of recent trading patterns and valuation sentiments -- quite cheap. Then again, just because something is cheap doesn't mean it's a bargain. After all, stocks moving below their 52-week lows can fall yet further before rebounding. So are these lagging silver-mining stocks offering up value, or are they just a value trap?
Here's what I found...
The cycle and costs -- a double whammy
Silver miners, just like any other mining firm, are seeing rising costs as labor and equipment expenses have both risen steadily in recent quarters. Higher expenses aren't a short-term blip -- they're the "new normal." Adding insult, commodity prices have been steadily falling on concerns that a European economic implosion will affect global trading partners from Brazil to China.
Yet here's the most important factor: Even with rising expenses and falling selling prices, silver miners continue to be a solidly profitable group. The EPS (earnings per share) figures noted above actually understate their profitability. High levels of depreciation dampen net income, but operating cash flow per share for almost every one of these companies is solidly higher than that EPS figure.