Wednesday, May 22, 2013
High Gold Prices Are Boon to Businesses That Supply Prospectors
Jittery, uncertain markets have fueled the latest surge in demand for precious metals, sparking a resurgence of interest in gold.
FAIRBANKS — For nearly four decades, Jim Madonna has sold metal detectors, pans, sluice boxes, picks and just about anything else a serious prospector or weekend hobbyist would need to find gold in the Alaska wilderness, but lately his little store on College Road has been busier than ever.
Jittery, uncertain markets have fueled the latest surge in demand for precious metals, sparking a resurgence of interest in gold as prices top out at $1,800 per ounce.
“It’s a gold rush,” Madonna said from behind a glass case filled with sensitive scales.
Madonna, a retired geology instructor from University Alaska Fairbanks, spends his day helping hopeful prospectors learn about finding the valuable metal. And even as prices decline as markets stabilize, sky-high high prices have made for good business in Fairbanks, where there’s plenty of interest in finding gold.
There’s a similar scene at Oxford Assaying and Refining in Fairbanks, where gold hunters can sell gold and customers can buy it.
General manager Bobby Curry said he has trouble keeping enough gold in stock to satisfy demand.
“The last year and half has just been crazy,” he said. “You can’t get enough gold shares on the market, it’s not even funny.”
Curry said the high price of gold can’t be linked to a single factor but, rather, to a variety of causes, including the value of currency, market sentiment, demand and other economic factors. People especially look to gold when markets get shaky, he said.
“It’s a good safe for a lot of people to put their money,” he said. “You physically own something, you can pull it out and look at it. With stock you have to find someone else to buy it to convert it into money, but with gold you can go into any coin shop and you can usually get rid of it.”
But whether people are investing in gold bars and coins, or hitting the wilderness with a shovel and pan in hand, both Madonna and Curry warn it isn’t an easy path to riches.
“One needs some experience,” Madonna said, recalling a group of tourists who hoped to pay for their trip with an afternoon of panning. “You could pan all summer and not make enough for the in-flight drink. You can’t get gold out of gravel where there’s no gold.”
But all warnings aside, to many hopefuls there’s something exciting about striking it rich on a lucky gold find. North Pole resident Ronald Bingham, 40, stopped by Alaskan Prospectors earlier this week to stock up on supplies before heading on a weekend trip with his wife. He doesn’t plan on striking it rich, but it wouldn’t hurt, he said.
“We’re just going up to play around, have fun and learn something,” Bingham said. “But gold is going up and you may never know, we might just find a nugget.”
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544.