STOCK MARKETS — Rising precious metal prices pull up major gold stocks — Crystallex shares dive on Venezuelan congressman’s remarks

The Toronto Stock Exchange 300 composite index ended the report period of Mar. 18-24 at a record high of 7,551.23, up 110.86 points, or 1.5%, over its March 17 showing.

The Canadian dollar fell 13 basis points over the report period against the U.S. dollar, closing at US70.47 on March 24. The loonie also lost ground against the major European currencies and the yen.

It was a great week for all the precious metals, with both gold and silver easily recovering from all of last week’s setbacks.

Gold was up US$9.40 over the previous week, reaching a London A.M.-fix price of US$298.50 per oz. on Mar. 25. The rise may be attributed to several events: an agreement between OPEC and non-OPEC countries on future oil production quotas; reports out of Italy that the European Union may decide to hold gold reserves equal to or greater than Italy’s reserves (which stand at almost 2,600 tonnes); and the recent increase in political uncertainty in Russia.

Silver continued to fluctuate, gaining US54 to fall to US$6.34 per oz. over the report period, as rumors circulated that silver may be a key component in new proprietary fuel-cell technology.

Palladium kept climbing, rising a stunning US$24 to hit US$290 per oz. as news came that Russian President Boris Yeltsin had fired his cabinet. The last major cabinet shuffle resulted in 7-month delays in palladium shipments from Russia, which produces about 62% of the world’s supply.

Platinum prices were also affected by the turmoil in Russia, though to a lesser degree, jumping US$17 to US$412 per oz. Russia produces about 32% of the world’s platinum.

The TSE’s gold and precious metals index rose to 6,600.05, up 233.90 points, or 3.7%, from last week, with Canada’s major gold producers basking in the metal’s rise: Barrick Gold gained $1.10 to close at $28.65; Placer Dome rose 35 to $17.90; Kinross Gold climbed 30 to $5.45; Cambior jumped 25 to $9; while the week’s volume leader, TVX Gold, rose 5 to $4.35.

Crystallex dropped $2.20 to $4.95 on heavy trading, following Venezuelan congressman Rafael Rodriguez Acosta’s assertion that the company’s claims to legal title to the Las Cristinas gold property are unfounded. While not directly refuting the substance of Acosta’s arguments, Crystallex is charging that a “concentrated disinformation campaign” has been launched against it, and that the company is the victim of a conspiracy of short sellers.

With cost-overrun problems at its Kemess gold-copper project in British Columbia, Royal Oak Mines continued to struggle, losing 30 to fall to $1.20. At presstime, however, the company reported that it had secured US$120 million to refinance and fund completion of the Kemess mine.

In contrast to the precious metals, the spot prices for base metals had another sluggish week: copper lost a penny to hit US79 per lb.; zinc gained 1 to hit US49 per lb.; lead was up 1 at US26 per lb.; and nickel inched up 3 to US$2.50 per lb.

The TSE mining and minerals sub-group slipped 49.24 points, or 1.2%, to close at 4,191.79. The big base metal producers had a mixed week: Inco rose 25 to $27.45; Falconbridge was down 70 to close at $20.30; Teck gained 65 to close at $19.90; Noranda was down 40 at $27.70; Rio Algom dropped 95 to $27.05; and Cominco gained 50 to close at $24.10.

Western Copper Holdings rebounded this week, rising 65 to $7.85 on news that it terminated a $5-million financing with Canaccord Capital. Instead, the company has arranged a $3-million loan with Teck, its partner on the El Salvador base metal project in Mexico.


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