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Esco sees bright spot in gold as global slowdown hits

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

PORTLAND What a difference a year makes. A year ago, Portland-based heavy equipment manufacturer Esco was surging along on strong prices for metals and oil as well as emerging markets in India and China. Not any more. Price drops and the global slowdown have forced the company to cut 400 positions globally and 120 jobs in Portland.

Esco has been based in Portland since 1913. It survived the Depression years by building parts for sawmills and paper plants. Today its areas of interest span the globe, from gold mines in Africa to the oil sands region of Canada. When prices for copper, iron ore and oil plummet, as they have, Esco receives fewer orders and more cancellations and has to adapt swiftly.

But there are bright spots. For one thing, there is gold, which has been hovering around $900 per ounce. “Gold is a significant piece of our business, and it has been a bright spot for us,” says Mark Mallory, Esco’s vice president of North American sales.

“Based on all the fear in the economy I’m expecting the gold price to stay strong and as long as it stays up miners will keep digging for it with our equipment.”

Digging also continues in the oil sands, although the dramatic drop in oil prices has turned the boomtown of Fort “McMoney” back into plain old Fort McMurray. Esco runs a supply store there, and oil companies have invested so much in the area that they’re still digging away, despite the price drop. “We still think that over the long term there is a huge upside in the oil sands,” says Mallory.

The same goes for stimulus works, especially major bridge and highway projects, which will require the sorts of dozers and excavators that Esco specializes in. And who knows? If the stimulus works, commodity prices may creep back up, putting miners back to work in Brazil and foundry workers back on the job in Portland. Time will tell.

BEN JACKLET

 

oilsands Esco’s business reaches to the oil sands region of Canada.


 

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