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Platinum fluctuations put U.S. Mint in bind

Perhaps the U.S. Mint should volunteer to be the sending agent for the Treasury’s next round of economic stimulus checks to collectors. That might make collectors unanimously pleased with what the Mint is doing.

Do I believe that collectors ever could be unanimously pleased with the actions of the Mint, or even close?

Nah.

What leads me to make such a silly suggestion is the end-of-the year excitement over the low mintages for American Eagle collector coins, particularly the platinum coins.
Reader Dan Knauth very kindly provided me with a snapshot of price swings in the proof platinum American Eagle four-coin sets.

He notes that in May the set was priced at $4,120. The price was increased to $4,589 in July and then cut to $2,420 in October and cut again to $2,180 in November.
The dilemma for the Mint is this: How do you think the first purchasers of the set in May are feeling about their decision now with the retail price from the Mint at approximately half what it was?

If you think they probably aren’t happy, I would say you are right.

On the other hand, how do you think end-of-the-year buyers are feeling right about now?

Happy?

I would think so.

But how would end-of-year buyers feel if the Mint had not cut its price at all even though the price of platinum bullion has dropped by approximately two-thirds to $850 a troy ounce since the spring?

Those potential buyers probably wouldn’t be looking to pick up a set as the year comes to a close.

My examination of buyer attitudes doesn’t even factor in Mint thinking on the underlying cost of the precious metal and whetherthe Mint has to take a loss.

What’s the Mint to do?

If you read last week’s paper, you know the answer. The Mint abolished three out of four of the coins in the four-coin proof platinum set and will offer only the one-ounce size in 2009. The uncirculated “W” platinum American Eagles were abolished completely.

This decision doesn’t end the problem of fluctuating precious metals prices, but it gives collectors a lot fewer purchase  options to complain about next year.

It didn’t have to be this way. The current system of doing things allowed too many buyers to game the system. Those who were successful are pleased and say nothing. Those who fail write their congressmen.

After all, how dare the Mint cut the price and make their earlier purchases seem ill considered and ill timed?

This brings me back to one of my old and sometimes expressed opinions. Collectors do not behave like regular retail buyers sometimes. Given this fact, why not have a 30-day order period for some of these programs. Strike the coins to order and no more. This would eliminate fluctuating prices and any bad feelings that stems from them.

Sure, we collectors would have fewer choices, but we also would have fewer problems, and the Mint fewer headaches.

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