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High prices spark fresh gold rush in California

High prices spark fresh gold rush in California By Matthew Garrahan in Los Angeles

Published: March 28 2008 20:38 | Last updated: March 28 2008 20:38

It has been almost 160 years since the first California gold rush but, with prices hitting record highs, prospectors are once again flocking to the state’s rivers and deserts in search of the precious metal.

Gold’s ascent – prices crossed the $1,000 an ounce barrier this month and remain well above $900 – has sent sales of mining equipment soaring.

“There’s been a dramatic change . . . our sales have risen four-fold in the last three months,” said Harrigan McGregor, owner of GoldFeverProspecting.com, an equipment retailer in northern California.

“This is the second big California gold rush. We’ve had a lot of phone calls from people who are quitting their jobs and prospecting full-time.”

The growth of prospecting by individuals has been accompanied by a sharp increase in commercial mining activity. Commercial claims, most of which involve gold mining, rocketed to 2,274 in the first quarter of this year, up from 132 in the same period of 2005, the Bureau of Land Management says.

Roger Haskins, senior specialist for mining law at the BLM, said the high price of gold was “obviously driving [mining] activity up tremendously”.

“We have a market imbalance at the moment and there’s more demand than supply,” he added. “Gold sits in a little niche because it’s speculative . . . People buy it as a hedge for the future.”

Membership in the Gold Prospectors Association of America “has tripled in a very short space of time”, said Corey Rudolph, an official of the southern California-based group, which organises events for recreational miners.

The hotspot is a 320km strip known as the Gold Belt, or “Motherlode”, which runs near Highway 49 (named for prospecting “49ers” of the 19th century) and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Mr Rudolph said 5-10 per cent of available gold had been mined. “There’s still a lot of gold out there for the smart guys.”

The market in second-hand gold is also booming, with southern California pawnshops reporting increased trade as people sell unwanted gold items. Depending on the quality, these items can be refined and resold.

However, Mr McGregor said raw gold can fetch even higher prices. “If you find a nugget larger than your pinkie finger, it could sell for up to 30 per cent more than the spot price.” Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008


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