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Where are buyers?

If recent lower gold prices are prompting buyers to step up their purchases, there is no evidence of it in the U.S. Mint’s July sales figures of one-ounce U.S. American Eagle gold coins.

Sales fell to the lowest monthly level of 2013. Previously June’s sales total had been the lowest of the year.

In the month of July, the U.S. Mint’s authorized purchasers took 43,000 one-ounce coins compared to June’s 49,000. Sales have been falling month by month since the April surge when lower gold prices, indeed $200 cheaper gold prices, inspired a world-wide wave of gold buying. In that month, the U.S. Mint’s sales went to 187,500, more than tripling the March sales figure and beating out January’s 124,500 number.

January is always a strong month as dealers and collectors scramble to get the first coins with the new yearly date on them.

Investors should not care what the date is on their coins. An ounce of gold should be an ounce of gold, but every year the current year coins take on a relative premium to issues of prior years, numismatically scarce issues aside.

But then there has never been agreement about just what the price of gold depends on. Is it a hedge against inflation? If it was solely that, the price would be around $600 an ounce and incrementally increase by whatever the percentage price increase was from year to year.

Instead, gold’s price swings rather widely and runs in prolonged streaks above or below a simple inflation hedge.

Others take the price of gold and try to convert it into the money supply of whatever country they might be measuring, most often the United States, at a dollar for dollar rate. The result is an outrageously high gold price. Some put it over $10,000 an ounce.

However, even in the days of the gold standard, the money supply was larger than the supply of gold. Bank loans expanded the money supply. Paper money issues expanded the money supply. Recognizing silver as a monetary metal expanded the money supply and was the metal of choice for the advocates of inflation of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Periodic runs on banks and financial institutions during the days of the gold and bimetallic standards kept the well-run firms from getting too far from the gold base, but just like now there were less well run firms that went broke and caused waves of unemployment. Even the U.S. government ran out of gold in 1893 and had to have an emergency loan to stay on track. The financial panic was was no picnic for average people.

The debate about what gold is and what its price should be will continue.

But for July gold Eagle sales numbers, the books are closed and there is no debating that buyers took less of the precious metal in this particular form during the month.

Now we look to August to see what this month will bring.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper “Numismatic News.”

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