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Compare prices when buying silver

As you probably know, dealers don’t quote the same prices for identical merchandise. It takes time and effort to check prices from multiple sellers. If you are checking on items selling for bullion-related prices, how do you know if you are getting a competitive price without lots or phone calls or checking websites?

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Silver prices, premiums and even shipping charges change on a regular basis.

The staff at my company regularly compares retail selling prices of bullion-priced items to ensure that we are competitive with many of the major national retailers. Out of curiosity, on July 14 I did a more extensive study of the retail prices quoted online by 31 other dealers (my own company is not included in this survey) for the purchase of $1,000 face value of U.S. 90 percent silver coins in typical circulated condition. One company (frequently recommended in multiple investment newsletters in years past) did not have any content newer than eight months old, so was excluded. Here is what I learned about the other 30.

Spot prices

Since prices change constantly, I focused on how the prices quoted compared to what was reported at the same instant as the bid spot price on www.thebulliondesk.com. Of the 30 dealers, half quoted a silver spot price and the rest did not show a price at all.

Of those showing a silver spot, they ranged from 3 to 12 cents higher than the referenced bid spot price. Since the commodities markets quote both bid and ask prices, and the range of quoted spot prices was so narrow, I consider the quoted spot prices to be reasonable. Further, I did not find this disparity to be significant, amounting at most to less than 0.5 percent between the lowest and highest quotes.

Premiums

Only 13 companies listed current selling prices for bags of 90 percent, though two of them only offered $500 face value as the largest quantity quoted online. For these two I doubled the price to come up with a $1,000 bag price.

Compared to spot price they displayed on the website, here are the ranges of premiums quoted by these 14 sellers:

Cost per ounce compared
to silver spot price        Number of companies
Spot + $1.44 to $1.49             3 sellers
Spot + $1.59                             1 seller
Spot + $1.89 to $1.99             2 sellers
Spot + $2.05 to $2.49            3 sellers
Spot + $2.77 to $2.80            2 sellers
Spot + $5.10                             1 seller
Spot + $7.49                             1 seller

Without naming names, I was surprised that some of the largest volume and best known sellers were not among those with the most competitive selling prices.

Oddly, the company quoting the highest selling price for 90 percent coins – nearly 28 percent higher than the low premium seller and that advertises on the radio. This company was also one of those quoting the lowest relative spot price, which demonstrates that it is total price, not the quoted spot price or the premium alone that determines the best overall value.

One company, under its special deals menu, offered a single $1,000 face value bag of 90 percent coins at + $0.72. As this formula was slightly lower than quoted by some bullion wholesalers to retail dealers, this would be a good deal. Out of curiosity, I revisited this website the next day. The special deal had been removed and the company had raised their premium on 90 percent $1,000 face value bags to spot + $3.65 per ounce! This shows that premiums can and do change and that the cheapest seller one day or at a specific transaction size may not continue to be the low price leader at another time or for a different-sized transaction.

Several sellers that did not quote selling prices directed people to call them for a price. From past experience with a few of them, I am aware that they are not competitive sellers, while others where I don’t have this knowledge might be.

If you are doing price comparisons, it might be worth calling one or more of these companies for a quote and doing the math yourself. To figure premium, determine the cost per ounce by taking the price for the $1,000 face value of 90 percent coins and dividing by the 715 ounces. From that price, subtract the ask silver spot price they are quoting to get the premium.

Some of the websites that did not quote selling prices are companies whose business model is to sell product into precious metals Individual Retirement Accounts. Since U.S. 90 percent  silver coins do not qualify to be placed in such an IRA, it is possible that one or more of these companies may not buy or sell 90 percent coins at all.

On balance, I suspect that the best premiums on 90 percent silver coins will often come from the dealers that quote their formulas on their website. But, until you check, you don’t know.

Commissions or transaction fees

None of the websites that quoted prices on 90 percent silver coin bags had extra charges called commissions or transaction fees. I am aware that at least one of the companies that did not list a price does charge such an add-on.

Shipping charges

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Most of the websites that quoted prices indicated that there was no additional postage charge on top of the merchandise price for transactions of this size. When I have done price comparisons in the past, I sometimes found that dealers tried to mask a high selling price by quoting a very low product price but then adding postage costs far above what the post office would charge – as high as $400!

When doing price comparisons, what is important to check is how much the total payment would come to. Sometimes, games can be played by quoting an apparently low product price but then pushing up the total price with commissions, transaction fees, or shipping costs.

Availability

All of the companies that quoted selling prices indicated the product was available for immediate shipment. That is consistent with what I have observed over the past few months where most bullion-priced coins and bars are available for immediate or short-delay delivery. When just about everyone in the industry has this product availability, any dealer that might claim they need a longer delay before they had the product to deliver could be warning you they might be a shoestring operation to avoid.

On the other side, if a sizeable percentage of companies are quoting delivery delays, then such a delay would be acceptable.  When markets have tight supplies where delivery times stretch out, you will often find some dealers willing to sell live product at a higher premium than it would cost for delayed delivery.

Can you negotiate?

Most local coin dealers that do a smaller volume often charge higher premiums than you will get from nationally competitive dealers. However, if you visit these dealers in their store, you may or may not find them willing to be flexible on pricing to make a deal work out. It may even be worth paying a slightly higher price for the convenience and greater privacy.

Service considerations

Keep in mind that price is not the only factor in getting the best overall value. As I mentioned in a June column (http://www.numismaster.com/ta/numis/Article.jsp?ad=article&ArticleId=28245), you need to ensure that you receive bulk 90 percent silver coins of sufficient weight (i.e. no excessive quantity of “slicks”) that will not be discounted when you go to sell them.

Also, service can be pretty important. There are companies that will not lock in prices until after they have already received good funds from a buyer, or require payment by a bank wire the same day. Further, some companies aggressively try to steer customers away from purchasing bullion-priced merchandise towards products that generate a higher profit margin for the business. It is the combination of product, price and service that suits your circumstances for being the best value.

It is my hope that this survey demonstrates the value of comparison shopping for bullion-priced coins and bars. Happy hunting.

Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He is the owner emeritus and communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at http://www.libertycoinservice.com. Other commentaries are available at Coin Week (http://www.coinweek.com). His radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com).

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express.
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