There are four factors coming together that I fear may result in an overall U.S. retail sales slump this summer. As this occurs, I suspect that American consumers will more narrowly focus their spending to life’s necessities. As a result, spending discretionary funds to add to a numismatic collection may well decline.
The first factor is that the U.S. economy is not necessarily as robust as politicians, bureaucrats, and the regular media are now claiming—and the general public perceives. Much of the so-called positive financial news is actually a result of soaring debt levels. With much less fanfare than for the positive economic news, default rates on vehicle loans, home mortgages, college education loans, and other private debt is rising.
The second factor is the result of the June 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decisions in South Dakota v. Wayfair, where state legislators are working aggressively to require out-of-state sellers with no physical nexus to register to collect sales taxes from sales made to in-state residents. To the extent these efforts expand tax collections, people making discretionary purchases such as for numismatic coins and paper money, will tend to reduce their expenditures.
The third factor is the current “trade war” standoff between the U.S. and Chinese governments. Right now, both governments are imposing higher tariffs on imports from the other nation, which is effectively a higher sales tax on the residents of the nation whose government is imposing the tariffs. Already, several friends of mine whose companies manufacture industrial products have hiked selling prices at least 10% from a year ago as a result of the higher cost of imported raw materials such as steel, newsprint, and the like.
The fourth factor is a perception by many Americans that their federal income tax refunds this year are less than expected. Many consumers count on these tax refunds to make major purchases. Most of the cash flow benefit of the tax cuts that took effect at the beginning of 2018 occurred through higher take-home pay last year. However, the IRS has reported that 2019 tax refunds are still up slightly from a year earlier. Despite these facts, the media coverage is leading many Americans to think that their tax burden increased as a result of the tax cuts. When consumers feel less prosperous, they rein in their spending.
Though these are not the only components of an economy’s strength or weakness, they do influence the trend.
Typically, many U.S. retailers look to boost sales every July by hosting “back to school” sales. This year, some major retailers have already begun such promotions, seeking to gain a sales advantage over the competition. Guess what? These early sales mostly are not generating the anticipated results. As these and other retailers detect that consumers are already becoming more tight-fisted, retailers try to maintain sales volume by offering even greater price discounts.
A fallout of this scenario, which I think has a high probability of occurring, is that numismatic retail sales could slump this summer. The dealers who would be hit the hardest by such a development are those who only sell to the public. That means that telemarketers and sellers that only deal online are at greatest risk. Those dealers who have an office or storefront who purchase from the public will be in better circumstances as they will more easily lower their cost of newly acquired inventory.
As for collectors, it may not be a good time in the market cycle to plan to sell, as we get further into summer. But, those with the ability to add to their collections may find some real bargains.
As for precious metals, the potential impact isn’t that obvious. It is possible there could be an initial weakness in prices followed by a surge in demand as investors flee paper assets.
Overall, the economic and financial developments this summer could be, as the Chinese saying warns, “interesting.”
Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award 2012 Harry Forman Dealer of the Year Award, and 2008 Presidential Award winner. The Numismatic Literary Guild also honored him in 2017 and 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at http://www.libertycoinservice.com. Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 AM Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com).