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2008 predictions: gold, coinage and politics

I have authored this column since 1965, when I became a professional writer dedicated to covering the numismatic field. At times, I even gaze into the future of the hobby and the world around us.
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I have authored this column since 1965, when I became a professional writer dedicated to covering the numismatic field. At times, I even gaze into the future of the hobby and the world around us.

In looking through my clips, the first reference I can find to this line of work is an article that I wrote on these pages in May 1971, entitled ?The unmasking of a seer.? It was never a regular feature of this column, though I did it from time to time.

Historically, I?ve spent a lot of time in the ?seer business? when it comes to market analysis. I?ve always, for example, predicted the price of gold, silver and platinum with varied degrees of success. The same is also true of my famous predictions for 1881-S silver dollars in MS-65 condition, something I view as a bellwether of the marketplace as a whole. Less accurate is my plea for Indian Head cents to be given their fair recognition and representative pricing. (Okay, finding a 1906 Indian Head cent in pocket change in 1960 changed my life ? and yours).

Longtime readers may recall that I?ve been involved in politics for virtually all of my adult life and have frequently interviewed members of Congress on coinage matters, from both sides of the aisle. In the 1970s and 1980s it was not uncommon to see interviews with Representatives Wright Patman, D-Texas, Leonor K. Sullivan, D-Mo., Robert G. Stephens, D-Ga., Walter Fauntroy, D-D.C., Ron Paul, R-Texas, James McClure, R-Idaho, Steve Symms, R-Idaho, Senators Mark O. Hatfield. R-Ore., Peter Dominick, R-Colo., Jacob Javits, R-N.Y., Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Hubert Humphrey, D-Minn., and others on pressing issues of the coinage field.

As my own life has changed and evolved, I became an elected official serving first as mayor of my community (fourth-largest in New Jersey?s largest county, Bergen) for seven years, and during the past five years as a county commissioner or supervisor known as a freeholder. My interest in politics went from local concerns to national predictions and some very close calls on presidential races in this century (mostly accurate but finally off by only a couple of electoral votes).

Next year, 2008, is a Presidential election year and a leap year. It affords a unique opportunity for being a seer. Before getting to that, however, it might be worthwhile to revisit my predictions for 2007 (written in October 2006) before the general election took place.

Predictions for 2007:

1. Political shift. I always write this before the general election. I may have the numbers wrong, but I see the GOP losing eight Senate seats and in any event losing control of the Senate. I see a loss of nine seats in the House with control staying with the GOP. (If I get the exact numbers, I want double credit). Paul Sarbannes is out as lead Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee. He should be replaced by Chris Dodd, who will in my opinion become chairman.

Let me hedge my House bet and go for extra credit with a contradiction: Barney Frank will be the next House Financial Services Committee chair (handling all coinage matters) and Nancy Pelosi will be the next Speaker. Coinage subcommittee chair Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, won?t be back in the next Congress, and will be defeated at the polls.

How the seer did: The Dems have control of the House and Senate; Pelosi is Speaker, Frank and Dodd are chairs. Pryce won a narrow re-election victory. Credit for 5 of 6 points.

2. Congress next year will finally pass the state quarter extension for Washington, D.C., and the five trust territories:Puerto Rico, Guam American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, American Virgin Islands. Goose egg, but see the prediction for 2008.

3. A bill will be introduced in Congress to reinstitute a $3 gold piece for collectors. Nope.

4. The ANA board will ultimately vote new bylaws about how its board of governors are elected. There will be intense debate and a lot of public opinion expressed beforehand. They may even go with Internet voting. They tried and failed. (Half point.)

5. Florida United Numismatists will offer a second convention besides its January one ? a June or July show ? to broaden its membership appeal and give the circuit another show. Yes! (1 point)

6. Precious metals prices will go up in the next 12 months. Silver will increase by at least 7 percent to at least $12.70 an ounce at some time during the cycle. Gold will go over $630. Platinum will top $1,150 sometime in the next 12 months. 3 for 3. Triple credit. (3 points.)

7. Legislation will move in Congress for consideration in eliminating the cent, and maybe the nickel, which both cost more than face value to produce. They are moving (see new prediction). (2 points.)

8. Look in your bookstores for a slew of new coin books in the coming 12 months. The hobby of 139 million people has caught the attention of large publishing houses. Topics will be diverse. So will the authors. Bingo! (1 point.)

9. Price for an 1881-S Morgan dollar, MS-65, will top $165 in fair market value. It?ll be about time. Result: Only as MS-66. Goose egg.

10. Indian cents will move: a typical 1906 MS-65 in brown Unc. will go above $110, a movement of 14 percent. Bingo! (1 point.)

11. Platinum eagles from the U.S. Mint will develop market scarcity and real numismatic value. Yes. Yes! (1 point.)

12. If you leave this out and circle it, someone in your life will make it a ?numismatic holiday? next December (or this one). It could be a book you want, or coin supply, or even a newsletter. How handy it is to circle what you want ...

 Total: 14 of 20 (.700)

So, for the 27th consecutive year, I?ve brought out the Ganz Crystal Ball to offer you a window to the future.

A lawyer?s caution: take everything that I write with a grain of salt. My track record in predicting precious metal prices is pretty dismal ? zoo monkeys tossing darts might do as well ? but on some compelling hobby and other issues, my overall track record borders on the semi-skilled. Recently it has been better than in years past.

No one has suggested I give up my day job as a lawyer and local political figure (except for the local voters who voted for the other guy in the 2005 mayor contest).

This seer business is actually tough and takes a lot of research, twice. The first is the datum necessary to read the tea leaves of the future; the other is checking on what happened in the past. Both are time-consuming, but also a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy the Swami?s musings as much as the seer enjoys writing them.

In gearing up for this year?s article, I drew on a 2006 visit Kathy and I made to the Oracle at Delphi. The journey took us 180km from Athens, and took all of three hours by tour bus. A three-hour tour awaited us, and our guide Dimitris was too knowledgeable and yapped incessantly with information that overloaded me en route.

It did not get better at the site, as the other group lapped us, leaving little time to explore the magnificent archeological site. In a way, it reminded me of Machu Picchu and the Inca City of the south.

Dimitris says that Delphi is the center of the earth, where it all began. The ruins, and the partial restorations, show it was a magnificent place of veneration. The archaeological museum was very special, although not air -conditioned; there, some partial restorations of ancient sculpture is magnificently displayed. We arrived there the day before my 55th birthday.

All that by way of preparation, I am now a better seer for the experience. We?ll see if the Delphi Oracle?s wisdom continues to rub off as I make predictions for 2008.

Predictions for 2008:

1. Political predictions. First, California will retain the traditional winner-takes-all electoral block. The Democrats will take the White House in a close electoral vote contest, widespread popular vote. No Supreme Court ch allenge this time. My guess is 391-157.

2. Gold is on the way to $1,000 an ounce in 2008. Once $800 an ounce was breached, my crystal ball says a run on $1,000 is likely. Watch for it.

3. Silver, now around $14.66, will rise to $16 or more in 2008. There are industrialized reasons why this is likely; and while $16 sounds high (it is), the price represents a 9.1 percent rise over the 12 percent in the past dozen months. My predictions on this metal have been weak over the years, but I think I have a good view for the next year.

4. Watch for platinum to rise to over $1,600 an ounce in 2008. The ratio between silver and platinum, currently 100:1 or thereabouts suggests to me that it will continue into the future. Purchases in China are the reason; as a consumer nation, they have trusted in platinum more than gold. The demand for platinum in China ? as indeed its demand for copper ? goes a long way to explaining how that metal is now viewed. Anyhow, watch for a rise of more than 8 percent.

5. Congress is going to try and give up on ? or abdicate? its constitutional responsibilities in setting weight, size and composition of the nation?s coinage ? but will retain rights to name the coin and define its design. Oddly, it will pit Ds versus Rs ? with the Democrats willing to sign rights over to the Mint, in evident violation of Article I, Section 8, of the federal Constitution ? which gives Congress non-relegable power over the nation?s coin and currency.

6. Watch for hearings and a vote on elimination of the cent and the nickel ? on the faulty logic that it costs more than a cent to produce the one-cent coin and nearly a dime to produce a nickel when overhead is added in. The problem is that the fixed costs never go away; eliminate the lower denominations and the cost of a quarter goes from 8 cents to nearly 20 cents. But the end result may be that the metallic composition of both coins change (not a bad concept if carefully tested).

The Mint will back a compositional change ? they?ve expected it for a while ? but the seer notes that they also favor giving administrative authority to make the change.

7. Lawsuits and administrative hearings are likely to occur over the use of the word ?Mint? in 2008, now that regulations have been issued to clarify that in the U.S. Mint?s view, no one but it or another lawful government facility can use the word ?Mint? in advertising. It says disclaimers don?t cut it ? and only make slight mitigation.

The Mint has trademark status on the phrase ?U.S. Mint? and a host of other product names including ?U.S. Mint Proof Set,? ?Uncirculated set? and so forth. Watch for (1) the lawsuit and (2) the suit to cancel the trademarks on the basis that they are longstanding generic names that have lapsed with common usage.

8. The 1881-S Morgan dollar, MS-65, will top $150 during the coming year. Call it intuition, a rising market (?all boats in the water rise with the tide?) or a wish and a prayer, but the $115 level now should start to move. This could be the year.

9. The giant ANA lawsuit involving former executive Chris Cipoletti and some former ANA employees will sputter to a halt well before the mid-year trial. My prediction is that this is one that is going to go away, even if the ANA has to buy its peace. What a colossal waste of resources.

10. Look for my wall of honor to grow with some new photographs in the coming year as we go into re-election cycle. Look for Mint Director Ed Moy to testify at least three times on Capitol Hill in the coming year. Watch for a clarification on ?first spouse? coinage as the Presidential race for 2008 tightens. Look for the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA) to take on new leadership responsibilities in the regulatory muddle.

Hope you?ve enjoyed the ?seer?s? predictions. If I get positive feedback, it?ll become a regular feature of the column as I enter my 40th anniversary of my first article for Krause Publications, in the old ?Coin Shopper? in 1968 and Numismatic News the following year.