Should you buy shares in Newcrest Mining Limited or Santos Ltd?

As far as commodities go, oil and gold don’t have much in common.

Gold titan Newcrest Mining Limited (ASX: NCM) certainly doesn’t have much in common with energy producer Santos Ltd (ASX: STO).

But there are still some important parallels between the two companies. Newcrest and Santos have both suffered falls from grace after plunging commodity prices. Both have suffered horrific asset write downs, and both have had new CEOs brought in to navigate the recovery phase.

But is one a better buy than the other?

Control over earnings

Revenues for both companies are handcuffed inescapably to commodity prices, but their large respective sizes have allowed each to leverage economies of scale to aggressively control costs and preserve margins.

Newcrest Mining is regularly one of the lowest cost producers listed on the ASX. The company reported All In Sustaining Costs (AISC) of production at US$770 per ounce for the six months to 31 December 2015, compared to an average realised gold price of US$1,113 per ounce.

For its part Santos had unit production costs slightly above those of ASX industry-leader Woodside Petroleum Limited (ASX: WPL). Santos was helped by the high-production GLNG joint venture.

Reserve life

Based on recent production rates and prices, Santos has enough 2P (proven plus probable) reserves of oil and gas to last around 16 years. Newcrest’s gold reserves will see it chugging on for 28 years. Point Newcrest Mining.

Debt position

Both companies have battled to control big debt positions in the last few years. As of 31 December 2015 Santos had a total debt-to-equity ratio of 0.73, which compares poorly to 0.41 for Newcrest.

Earnings outlook

With a current price-to-earnings ratio of 30 investors are certainly banking on a favourable earnings outlook for Newcrest Mining. This is understandable given the company’s strong margins and steady cost profile.

Santos for its part is waiting patiently for a rise in oil prices to lift its oil-linked LNG pricing to boost revenues and cash flows, so  it can trim its debt position and add value for investors.

Foolish takeaway

Newcrest Mining certainly looks to have a stronger investment case than Santos today given the uncertainty around future commodity prices. However in my view, Newcrest’s share price is already priced for strong near-term earnings growth so it’s not on my ‘buy’ list today.

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Motley Fool contributor Regan Pearson has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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