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Be glad you aren’t a Mint planner

Buyers have been losing interest in the one-ounce silver American Eagle bullion coin since the end of spring.

May demand was 3,988,500 coins. If we round it to 4 million for easy calculation, we can say silver buyers were taking new coins at the rate of 48 million a year.

That figure exceeds total sales of 42.7 million last year. In other words, the May figure was a strong number, though it is actually a tad below the average of the first five months of 2014.

In June sales were 2.7 million, which is a 32.4 million annual sales rate.

July sales of just under 2 million is a 24 million annual sales rate.

The August sales figure, which is just over 2 million is also a 24 million annual sales rate.

Are we bottoming out, or just pausing before the next down-leg of this sales journey?

Is there a baseline below which the actions of collectors and dyed-in-the-wool investors will not permit sales to fall?

In the years 2000 to 2007, we had a 9.3 million annual sales average. The level of fluctuation was minimal. It was a good baseline because if Mint officials began planning with a 9 million mintage in mind, they were never far off.

Silver prices were rising for most of that period. Does that call into question the very idea of a sales baseline? Buyers might be presumed to be gaining enthusiasm during that period.

Look at the 1990s. Bullion prices had a downward bias during that decade. In the entire span 1990-1999, sales totaled 54.4 million coins. This is an average of 5.4 million a year, but because mintages jumped around more in the 1990s, it is hard to call the figure a baseline.

The 1996 sales figure of 3.6 million was significantly below it.

If silver remains unexciting in the coming year, will there be a sales floor?

Neither decade from the past offers much on which to base a conclusion, unless we want to shout “look out below.”

A sales drop from over 40 million in annual sales to 5.4 million even over a span of a decade would be quite severe. A drop to 9.3 million would also be severe.

It is probably only reasonable to say that if the price of silver continues to snooze, the sales trend will be lower.

It is up to Mint planners to try to figure out what bullion silver Eagle sales figure they want to plug into their budgets for 2015.

I don’t envy them. They have little historical evidence to go on.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper “Numismatic News.”

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