Economic Impact on Numismatics

Coin dealers are lousy economists so I don’t want to waste your time discussing the economic background of the last few days. What I would like to share with you is my take on how it’s impacted my business and what I see are the short term effects of the credit crunch, liquidity crisis, Dow meltdown, etc. on the coin business. My business was screamingly active in July and August. It slowed down considerably in September and it has been extremely slow in October. I have read on a few dealers’ websites that they are still selling lots of rare coins and that they have people calling from out of the blue purchasing items from their inventory. I think this is a crock. Unless you are a dealer selling bullion right now, you probably (there are exceptions...) are not doing much coin business. You might be purchasing coins from clients who bought them a year or two ago but selling your existing inventory right now? I doubt it.

That’s not to say that the coin business has shut down entirely. It definitely has not. I’ve sold some nice collector grade coins in the past week and my wholesale business is actually a bit better than I would have expected. But my regular clients are taking a wait and see attitude towards the coin market, as am I. With the Dow dropping hundreds of points every day, it’s hard to be excited about the coin market right now.

As recently as a few weeks ago, I commented that the generic gold market was very weak and that premiums for $20 Libs and Saints were as low as at any time I could remember. You literally could not give away double eagles. Three weeks later and the world of generics is a very, very different place. As I write this, gold has a spot price of around $863 but Brilliant Uncirculated (MS60 to MS61) double eagles are worth between $1250 and $1300 each.

I actually recommended in one my recent blogs that it might be a good idea to stock up on gold as the premiums got so low and, for once (!) I was right. I think the moral of the story is that it’s a good idea to have a small position in double eagles for your personal protection and to move in and out of as premiums ebb and flow. My guess is that the premiums will stay very high for a while.

Here are some more thoughts and suggestions for rare coin collectors in these uncertain economic times:

1. If you are looking to time the market perfectly and sell at the height, you are probably too late. It looks like the peak for certain series may have been the spring of 2008. While I think it’s safe to say that faux rarities, widgets and low end “stuff” have seen their best days, I don’t necessarily think that the good times are over for really neat coins or really popular coins or coins that seemed undervalued as recently as thirty days ago.

2. If you were smart enough to buy double eagles at last month’s low premium, pat yourself on the back and start selling into the market. Yes, there is a good chance that gold will continue its upward climb but once the panic buyers have established their positions I would think that the currently high premiums will erode. I would certainly keep some of your position but I would strongly consider selling some of what you have at a nice profit and to maybe even considering putting the profit into rare coins.

3. Clearly, there will be new price levels soon for many series. If you collect early gold or Type Two double eagles or even modern Proof gold, the chances are pretty good that what you were buying on September 14 probably isn’t worth what it is on October 7th. No one—not even a connected expert like myself—is exactly certain what the new levels will be. Part of this depends on the willingness of dealers to sell coins for losses. I expect that the smart dealers out there will take the losses that make sense to them while the not-so-smart dealers will be stubborn and refuse, at least for now, to sell anything for a loss. I would think we’ll really start seeing what the new levels are at the 2009 FUN show and at the auctions surrounding this convention.

4. Whatever you do, don’t be a panic seller. Hopefully you bought coins with discretionary income and you made the decision to be a long-term collector who would stick with their coins through thick and thin. The last year or two was a good time to prune your collection and to get rid of mistakes, duplicates, widgets, etc. Hopefully you listened to my advice and did this. Hopefully you’ll also listen to me when I tell you that selling anything now that isn’t totally top quality might not be the best idea.

5. The “wild card” effect of the current economic chaos is that we may see a dramatic upward movement in gold, a wild run away from anything resembling stocks or bonds and even the return of rampant inflation. Any of these factors would have a significant impact on the rare coin market.

6. If prices do begin to drop and you have the assets available to allocate on coins, it might be a great time to buy. I heard lots of collectors complain that they’ve been priced out of their end of the market in the last few years by Nouveau Riche Accumulators. What if the majority of these NRA’s go away and you can suddenly afford to collect nice coins again?