Gold and silver still hot commodities in Utah
For a good many Utahns, gold and silver coins and bullion haven't lost their luster despite the recent sharp declines in the prices of the precious metals.
Concerns about the future of the nation's still-struggling economy and looming fears that the Federal Reserve's "quantitative easing" program ultimately will drive down the value of the dollar and trigger inflation continue to nag a lot of the state's residents, many of whom still are venturing into local coin stores and bullion dealers in search of the safety and security that they believe the precious metals offer.
"The drop in prices haven't changed many people's minds about the value of owning gold and silver," said Bob Campbell, owner of All About Coins in Salt Lake City. "What it has done, though, is make quite a few of them depressed. It's taken the wind out of their sails. It is a lot like the depression that we saw around here when Mitt Romney lost the election."
But just as Barack Obama's victory failed to change the politics of rabid Romney supporters, those who view gold as offering a store of value in uncertain economic times are sticking with their beliefs even though the price of the yellow metal has fallen some 34 percent since it peaked at $1,895 in Sept. 2011.
Similarly silver, known as the "poor man's gold" because of its much cheaper price, is down about 60 percent from its mid-2011 high of $49.80 an ounce.
Utah coin and bullion dealers said the falling prices haven't sparked much selling of the precious metals. And they note that many gold and silver aficionados believe the drop in metal prices has more to do with the machinations of the commodities market where speculators buy "paper gold and silver" contracts that have little to do with the actual demand for physical gold and silver.
"Most of the people we see coming in want to buy. They are hoping to take advantage of the lower prices," said Galen Rust, owner of Rust Rare Coin in downtown Salt Lake City. "Those few who are selling are doing so because they seem to have an immediate need [for cash."
With more buying than selling going on in Utah, coin and bullion dealers often have to tell their customers that they will have to wait for delivery of the gold and silver they've ordered.
"Things have gotten better in recent weeks but a couple of months ago everyone seemed to be behind. Even the U.S. Mint was behind schedule, with those who wanted to buy American Silver Eagles having to wait four, six or even eight weeks," Campbell said.
Campbell said when it comes to keeping an inventory of coins and bullion on hand, dealers are constantly facing a balancing act.
"We try to keep as much on hand as possible but when you're only making 1 percent on the gold you sell and 3 percent on the silver, any abrupt change in the price can really kick your butt."
At Cascade Refining in West Valley City, vice president and marketing director Chris Wright said there has been a noticeable decline in the number of customers coming in wanting to sell their gold and silver jewelry and other items. "A lot of people may already have sold their gold and silver jewelry when prices were higher."
Still, Wright said that Cascade also is seeing an increase in customers coming in wanting to buy small quantities of gold and silver bullion."It's picked up since prices started falling."
Whether precious metal prices in the future will be going up or down is anyone's guess.
On Thursday, though, gold prices shot up more than $32 an ounce to around $1,280 an ounce after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said that the U.S. economy needs "highly accommodative monetary policy for the foreseeable future." Silver also gained.
"Sentiment will now be to the upside and the market will be looking for an attempt on $1,300," David Govett, head of precious metals at Marex Spectron Group in London, said Friday in a report.
Bloomberg News contributed to this story
What gold and silver bullion coins cost (Thursday prices)
One ounce American Gold Eagle • $1,355
One ounce Kruggerand • $1,334
One ounce Canadian Maple Leaf • $1,337
One ounce American Silver Eagle • $24.35
Source: All About Coins, Salt Lake City