With the SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD), the world’s largest ETF backed by physical gold, down nearly 24% this year, further significant retrenchment in gold prices may be a hard concept to fathom for some gold bugs.

As it is, with gold prices struggling to stay above $1,300 per ounce and move higher from there, profitability for some miners is threatened. Below $1,300 an ounce, speculation intensifies that even some of the large-cap miners will have a hard time profitably extracting the yellow metal from the earth. [ETF Chart of the Day: Gold Miners]

Imagine a gold prices at $900 an ounce, a roughly 30% decline from current levels, and the adverse impact that could have on gold miners and ETFs such as the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEArca: GDX). Analysis by Cowen & Co. indicates that some of the large-cap gold miners will be able to keep their heads above water “until 2015 in the event of an average gold price of $900,” reports Brendan Conway for Barron’s.

The Cowen analysis takes into consideration what the research deems “net solvency” for miners, a combination of cash on balance sheets, free cash flow, and available credit, extrapolated two years into the future, Barron’s reported.

The analysis highlighted Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX) and Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM) as two companies that currently have strong net solvency positions. Those are GDX’s second- and third-largest holdings, combining for 20% of the ETF’s weight. Both companies recently cut their dividends in an effort to conserve cash. [Gold Bounce Inches Some Miners Back to Profitability]

Cowen also noted Goldcorp (NYSE: GG) and Yamana Gold (NYSE: AUY) would still be to generate positive earnings amid significant gold price retrenchment. Those stocks combine for 19% of GDX’s weight. Yamana’s all-in-cash costs are below $860 an ounce, indicating the company could still be profitable if gold trades only slightly above $900.

However, Cowen said Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC), another recent dividend cutter, and Agnico-Eagle (NYSE: AEM) would suffer low or negative profitability even with a $100-$200 gold-price decline, according to Barron’s. Those stocks combine for 9% of GDX’s weight. Kinross is believed to have all-in-cash costs of around $1,040 per ounce.

Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF

ETF Trends editorial team contributed to this post. Tom Lydon’s clients own shares of GLD.

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