Photo by Abelardo Morell | Gallery

Getting In with the Ingot Crowd

Abelardo Morell, 39 Gold Bars: $15,372,742 (11 AM/GMT-3/13/08): $988.25/oz Zurich, Switzerland, 2008, in "Embarrassment of Riches: Picturing Global Wealth," through Jan. 2, 2011, at Minneapolis Institute of the Arts

Even though international gold prices are high — above $900 per ounce, with some analysts predicting the price could hit $1,000 — many of South Africa's mining corporations are facing declining profits. They face higher costs in wages and safety precautions, plus many South African mines are more than 100 years old and miners must dig deeper for the gold....

South Africa’s mining industry — the main pillar of the country’s economy — was built on the cheap labor provided by generations of black workers who toiled in perilous conditions. Mining is South Africa's largest employer with 460,000 workers. More than 70 percent of those miners are black, according to government statistics. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, working conditions have improved, stronger safety regulations have been put in place, and unions have won higher wages and better benefits.

Still, every year an average of 200 miners die and an additional 5,000 sustain serious injuries, according to the unions. Unknown numbers of miners contract illnesses such as silicosis and tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS is rampant in the hostels where many workers live. Earning an average salary of $350 a month, miners struggle to feed the eight to 11 family members who, on average, depend on them for survival. And if they lose their jobs, they are often unprepared to compete for jobs outside the mines.

— Nicolas Brulliard, "Even as Gold Prices Rise, Miners Struggle, GlobalPost, April 7, 2009

Here, in a corner of Switzerland where Italian is spoken and roughly one-third of the world’s gold is refined into bars and ingots, business is booming. Every day, bangles, bracelets and necklaces arrive in plastic bags — from souks in the Middle East, from pawn shops in Asia and from corner jewelers in Europe and North America.

“It could be your grandmother’s gold or the gift of an ex-boyfriend,” said Erhard Oberli, the chief executive of Argor-Heraeus, a major refiner here that processes roughly 400 tons of gold a year. “Gold doesn’t disappear.”

Amid a global frenzy fed by multibillion-dollar hedge funds, wealthy speculators and governments all rushing to stock up on the precious yellow metal, the price of gold briefly surpassed $1,100 an ounce on Friday, a record high. 

— Nelson D. Schwartz, "Inside the Global Gold Frenzy," The New York Times, Nov. 7, 2009

Gold prices have popped 9.7% year to date after reaching a record intraday high of $1,264 an ounce, and the next bull market is in rare earth metals, says one analyst.

James Dines, editor of The Dines Letter, uses mass psychology to identify bubbles before they burst. Although he is a self-proclaimed expert, Dines reportedly urged subscribers to buy mining companies in 2001 to take advantage of a coming bull market in gold.

— Alix Steel, "The Next Bull Market in Precious Metals," TheStreet.com, Aug, 31, 2010

The price of gold at this very moment.

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