With the mining sector being a relatively unpopular place in which to invest for now, buying high quality mining stocks for the long term could prove to be a shrewd move. That’s because investor sentiment is low so they’re trading at relatively low valuations and could offer significant upside potential.

Volatility is a given, but for investors who can stomach wild share price movements and think in years rather than days or weeks, there are a number of opportunities to profit from the mining collapse.

For example, the world’s largest silver producer Fresnillo (LSE: FRES) remains a financially sound business despite the price of the precious metal having fallen heavily in recent years. In fact, even though the price of silver has fallen 53% in the last five years, Fresnillo has been able to stay profitable while many of its sector peers have recorded a red bottom line.

Certainly, Fresnillo’s net profit has declined during the period, but looking ahead it’s expected to rise dramatically. For example, earnings per share are expected to increase by over 80% in 2016 and this puts Fresnillo on a price-to-earnings growth (PEG) ratio of only 0.4.

Furthermore, with Fresnillo expected to almost double dividends on a per share basis in the current year, the company is sending a clear signal to the market that it’s confident in its long-term financial outlook. Therefore, now could be a sound moment to buy its shares since investor sentiment has the scope to improve dramatically in 2016 and beyond.

Volatile but promising

Similarly, copper miner Antofagasta (LSE: ANTO) has also been highly profitable in recent years despite a severe decline in the price of copper. Although the prospects for the commodity are still uncertain, Antofagasta is expected to return to strong growth in 2016 with earnings due to rise by 55%. This puts the company on a PEG ratio of just 0.5 and indicates that Antofagasta’s shares could be set to reverse the decline that has seen them fall by 21% in the last month.

With a beta of 1.5, Antofagasta’s shares are likely to remain exceptionally volatile, but with the company expected to raise dividends by 54% this year, it should provide the market with a clear indication that it remains optimistic about its financial standing and outlook. This could help to settle the market somewhat and, with the price of copper having the potential to rise in the long run, Antofagasta appears to offer a favourable risk/reward ratio.

Dividend cut ahead?

Meanwhile, iron ore-focused miner Rio Tinto (LSE: RIO) continues to offer a hugely enticing yield, with it currently standing at an incredible 9.4%. In the short run, Rio Tinto appears to have sufficiently strong cash flow to maintain its current level of payout, but in the medium-to-long term a dividend cut seems likely. That’s because the price or iron ore could fall further – especially with the Chinese economy continuing to slow and transition away from major capex projects.

Despite this, Rio Tinto appears to be worth buying. That’s at least partly because it enjoys an ultra-low cost curve, which means that it should be able to outlast the vast majority of its peers. And with it having a sound balance sheet and robust cash flow, it could also begin to take advantage of discounted asset prices to increase market share over the medium-to-long term.

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Peter Stephens owns shares of Rio Tinto. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Rio Tinto. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.