South Africa Power Outage Sets Gold on Fire
Gold prices climbed to yet another record high Friday after a power outage in South Africa interrupted mining operations and raised concerns about supply. Benchmark bullion contracts were recently adding $10 at $915.80 an ounce in New York futures market action. Earlier in the session, the price reached $924.30 an ounce -- an all-time intraday high for the metal -- before pulling back. The highest closing price for futures was $905.80, reached Thursday. "Power is the life blood of these underground operations and is essential for both hoisting men and ores, as well as providing adequate cooling at these extreme depths," says Ross Norman, an analyst at TheBullionDesk.com in London.
Norman points to "aging infrastructure and coal shortages" at the South African national power utility as the root cause of the interruption, with problems "likely to persist." South Africa is the largest gold producing country in the world, according to industry estimates from specialty research firm CPM Group. Unlike in some other countries where gold miners work above ground, in South Africa they typically work a long way below the surface where the rocks are very hot and need to be cooled. Shares of South African firms Harmony Gold ( HMY) and Gold Fields ( GFI) were sliding on news of the power outage. The other miners, however, seemed to be benefiting from the buoyant gold price, with Yamana Gold ( AUY) up 2.3% and Agnico-Eagle Mines ( AEM) adding 1.3%. The exchange-traded funds that hold inventories of gold bullion, streetTracks Gold Shares ( GLD) and iShares Comex Gold Trust ( IAU) were little changed. Gold prices have shot up from around $670 last summer as investors have become increasingly wary of buying paper assets and have instead sought hard assets such as precious metals.