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Coin market health depends on dollar

It looks like American collectors and coin buyers are going to be called on to support the coin market in 2015 because so much of the world is in such a financially troubled state.

I came back from the Florida United Numismatists convention a few days ago. I had arrived Jan. 7 and then departed Jan. 11.

It was a show that on balance was positive, but it was not like shooting fish in a barrel for dealers to make profits.

The world coin situation was perhaps best put by Indiana dealer Al Boulanger. His comment, “I can’t sell Russia. The Russian dealers are not here,” sums up the results of a financial crisis that has seen the Russian ruble slump from 32 to the dollar to the present 64.

That is a 50 percent decline in value. In other words, anything priced in U.S. dollars has doubled for anyone who has assets or income denominated in rubles.

It is no surprise that Russian dealers were not flying to Florida to do business despite the attractions of DisneyWorld for their families as well as sunshine and warmth that is seasonally absent from northern climes.

These dealers have taken a big hit. Perhaps they should have swallowed the travel costs and come to the United States to sell what they have previously purchased.

They did not, which is a likely indicator that owners of Russian numismatic material feel that it is a good hedge against the financial fluctuations that are yet to come.

No one a year ago could have forecast such an outcome unless they were privy to Kremlin plans for the Crimea and eastern areas of Ukraine.

Some might suggest that FUN is not the most likely location for Russian dealers, especially in light of the fact that the New York International Numismatic Convention was being conducted simultaneously.

It is a logical suggestion, but Russian buyers were also absent from the New York show.

My colleague George Cuhaj, who is editor of the Standard Catalog of World Coins, was in New York. His said that in the 42 years he has been attending the event it is only the second time that he has seen dealers leave early.

It also does not help that the European Union’s euro has declined in value. To be sure, it has not fallen as sharply as the ruble, but the movement is enough to make coins priced in dollars at American shows seem expensive.

As this is written, the financial news headlines state that the euro traded at the same value at which it was introduced in 1999, which was just over $1.17.

The peak value for the euro was roughly $1.60 achieved in 2008.

It’s present value has been whacked by over 25 percent from that level, but it was spread out over almost seven years.

China should be mentioned in this picture. It has been the twin strong markets of Russian and Chinese coins that have buoyed world coins generally, and a relatively strong euro underpinned a healthy market for European and other coins, new issues included, that are favored by European buyers.

It might be said that China is the least changed of these three pillars of the numismatic market.

That is true.

However, with all of the uncertainty in the financial markets and a question mark about economic growth in the People’s Republic, it is logical to assume that no additional waves of purchases will push coin prices generally higher this year.

The long-term Chinese trend should remain intact, but short term, who knows?

That leaves American buyers. They have a strong dollar to play with. They can use them to bid in European auctions. They can support American dealers as well. The question is will they?

It is too early to tell.

If the American economy can perform as economic forecasters say it will, American collectors will likely feel confident enough to spend more freely.

Perhaps we should start a movement advocating that all collectors spend their savings from lower gasoline prices on their collections. Simply doing this would have a huge impact on the numismatic market. That is all it would take to make 2015 a great year.

Now we have to sit back a while and watch the year unfold.

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."