Weekly World Numismatic News for December 9, 2018

Each week I look at the news from the week in order to highlight something interesting. With the holiday season upon us, I was hoping to find something nice to write about. Instead, Kitco’s story about the increasing sales of silver and a marketplace that is now moving is more concerning than positive.

Precious metals are the investment of last resort. While some portfolios will diversify into metals for a safe haven, metals become active when there is uncertainty in the market. The trade wars between the United States and China have caused market players to reduce their risk by investing in silver.

Although most prefer gold, silver has been the metal of choice for the Chinese for hundreds of years. It has been the benchmark of their trade and the basis for their monetary system prior to all countries moving off precious metals standards. It was the basis of trade that the United States thought would be resolved by creating the Trade Dollar coin in 1873.

The rise in silver sales from the U.S. Mint is good in that it will increase seigniorage. It is not so good in that it indicates there is the potential for the markets to change course. Markets hate uncertainty and this could be their answer to the uncertainty brewing in trade between China and the United States.

And now the news…

 November 28, 2018

Currencies / Fiat Currency The first gold coins appeared around 560 B.C. Over time it became a practice to store larger amounts of gold in warehouses.  → Read more at marketoracle.co.uk


 November 29, 2018

These days, you can't buy much with 5¢ – including the cost of making one. That's right, the cost of producing a 5¢ piece is about 5.059¢, and this is about the cheapest it's been in recent years. In 2015, the cost of producing a 5¢ piece hit a high of 7¢ due to the fluctuating cost of nickel and copper.  → Read more at smh.com.au


 November 29, 2018

Inmates in a Bulgarian prison were in for a shock when they stumbled across an enormous hoard of silver coins from the Ottoman Empire. The incredible haul was discovered alongside two broken treasure pots in a prison in the Bulgarian city of Pleven.  → Read more at mirror.co.uk


 December 2, 2018

The National Bank of Romania (BNR) has put into circulation, for numismatic purposes, a commemorative collector banknote with face value of lei 100 dedicated to the anniversary of 100 years since the Great Union on December 1, 1918.  → Read more at romania-insider.com


 December 3, 2018

Correcton:The U.S. Mint provided incorrect information on its website Monday morning, misstating the number of ounces sold in December. In an update of its sales data the U.S.  → Read more at kitco.com


 December 4, 2018

Rare gold coins and a golden earring have been discovered in the ancient Mediterranean port of Caesarea in northern Israel—possibly left and never recovered as Crusaders conquered the area 900 years ago.  → Read more at phys.org


 December 6, 2018

It was 150 years ago this month when one of Nevada's most treasured artifacts first arrived in Carson City.  → Read more at carsonnow.org


 December 6, 2018

Lianna Spurrier has the tooth fairy to thank for a hobby that transformed into sudden job opportunities.   → Read more at thetrailblazeronline.net


 December 8, 2018

This article first appeared in the Nevada Appeal on July 20, 2014. Abe Curry received papers on July 16, 1866, approving the start of construction on the Carson Mint.On  → Read more at nevadaappeal.com

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Weekly World Numismatic News for December 2, 2018

While watching the numismatic news that appears in non-numismatic sources, I noticed that regardless of the predictions of cashless societies taking over, there are a few countries with interest in coins for both commerce and collecting.

By far, the one country that seems to have an affinity for coins is India. The news consistently highlights collectors who have coin collections of all sizes and varieties. Whether it is someone who has collected old Indian coins dating back to the Britsh control of the country to someone that collects foreign coins from visitors, there seems to be a story about coin collectors in one of the many Indian news publications.

The other country I can count on for consistent numismatic-related stories is China. Aside from stories about coin shortages and how the poorer areas of the country are hoarding coins, Chinese collectors seem to gravitate toward precious metal coins. Interestingly, Chinese collectors seem to like silver coins even though investors are chasing gold. This is understandable since silver coins can be bigger and cost less.

Recently, it was reported that Chinese collectors are chasing platinum as an investment option. Reports are being circulated that Chinese markets are investing heavily in South African platinum mines allowing the production to increase. With the spot price of platinum ($802.00) lower than the spot prices of gold ($1,222.10) and palladium ($1,170.00), the growth of platinum investment options has grown. The Hang Seng ETF (exchange-traded funds) Index has noted a significant increase in the trading of platinum futures.

Several publications have asked if this means that China is attempting to corner the platinum market. Since I am not a financial analyst, I am not sure. As a numismatist, it is interesting to see that platinum has a growing interest in China.

And now the news…

 November 15, 2018

Grab your metal detectors! We are seeking some of the most valuable treasures ever discovered. From buried treasures to sunken treasures, lying beneath villages, towns, cities, farms, riverbeds, and in…  → Read more at invest.usgoldbureau.com


 November 25, 2018

The National Bank of Romania (BNR) has issued several coins to mark the 100-year anniversary of Romania’s 1918 Union. They are a gold coin, a silver coin, and a brass collector coin for numismatic purposes, along with a brass commemorative circulation coin.  → Read more at romania-insider.com


 November 26, 2018

Limited edition gold and silver coins commemorating the 70th anniversary of the first issuance of the renminbi (RMB) currency and establishment of China's central bank went on sale in China last Friday.  → Read more at gbtimes.com


 November 26, 2018

The World Platinum Investment Council is pushing for new platinum products to lure Chinese investors into the metal, providing another source of demand for SA’s second-largest mineral export. Weibin Deng, China’s head at the council, which is financially backed by SA’s platinum producers to stimulate investment, outlined plans for coins, metal-backed exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and other products, targeting the country’s burgeoning middle class.  → Read more at businesslive.co.za


 November 26, 2018

The Celtic coins discovered in Slovakia were tetradrachms, which were the most precious coins available at the time. In the heart of Slovakia in Mošovce, archaeologists have unearthed 40 …  → Read more at inquisitr.com


 November 27, 2018

Welcome back for Part II of our Most Valuable Treasure Discoveries series. Below is a continuation of some of the most remarkable treasures unearthed in recent history. The Staffordshire Hoard…  → Read more at invest.usgoldbureau.com


 November 28, 2018

THE CENTRAL Bank of Ireland has unveiled a special commemorative coin created to mark 100 years since Irish women won the right to vote.  → Read more at irishpost.com

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From manufacturing to circulation: Why does the most season numismatists get it wrong

It never ceases to amaze me that even the most seasoned and esteemed numismatists do not understand how United States coinage goes from manufacturing to circulation.

Recently, Harvey Stack wrote a column that appeared as a Viewpoint in Numismatic News (November 18, 2018). In the column, he blamed the U.S. Mint for problems with the distribution of the 50 State Quarters program. In the article Stack wrote that “the distribution of the new designs did not get full nationwide distribution. The Mint sent to most banks nationwide whatever they had available, with some districts getting large quantities of the new issue and other districts getting relatively few, if any.”

The U.S. Mint does not distribute circulating coins to any United States bank except the Federal Reserve. At the end of every production line is a two-ton bag made of ballistic materials that collect every coin produced on the line. When the bag is full it is sealed and later transported to a processing center designated by the Federal Reserve.

The U.S. Mint is a manufacturer. When they complete making the product, it is packaged in bulk and the customer, the Federal Reserve, picks up the product. Once the product is delivered to the client, that product’s distribution is no longer in the U.S. Mint’s control.

During the time of the 50 States Quarters program, the U.S. Mint had an agreement with the Federal Reserve to distribute the new coins first in order to get them into circulation. When the new coins were transferred to the various Federal Reserve cash rooms in the 12 districts, the Federal Reserve did circulate the new coins first.

What gets left out of the discussion is the logistics of transferring the coins from the cash rooms to the banks. The Federal Reserve does not deliver. Like many government agencies, the Federal Reserve relies on contractors to carry out that job. The Federal Reserve “sells” the coins to the logistics companies that bag and roll the coins and eventually deliver the coins to in armored vehicles to the banks.

In order to save money, these logistics companies keep their own supply of coins. This supply comes from the Federal Reserve cash room operations or excess they are given by the banks. Sine the logistics companies were not part of the deal that the U.S. Mint made with the Federal Reserve, a bank that asked for a delivery of quarters may have received quarters from the logistic company’s stock rather than new issues from the Federal Reserve.

Logistics is the coordination of complex operations and it is the job of these logistics companies to fulfill the inventory needs of the bank in the most efficient manner possible. It was more efficient to supply the banks in less densely populated areas with coins from current stock than transporting large amounts of coins from one of the Federal Reserve cash room operations that may be hundreds of miles away.

The U.S. Mint may do many things that collectors might take exception to, but the distribution of circulating coins is not their responsibility.

Coin image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.

The United States is not going cashless… oh, look at that butterfly!

With the discovery of every new technology, there are the inevitable predictions that it will make the old ways obsolete. Although the automobile reduced the reliance on horses, the basics of the internal combustion engine have not changed in over 100 years. Take away the electronics around the engine, the technology increasing the air intake, and cleaning up the exhaust, and you still have an engine block with pistons that go up and down in the classic suck-bang-blow rhythm that was used in the Model T.

The latest technology that is being touted as being the doom for physical money, which can also be the end of numismatics, is cryptocurrency.

There are two aspects of cryptocurrency that its fans say are its biggest strength. First, it is not bound by the traditional means of generating wealth. You can think of cryptocurrency as digital gold. It is mined using computers and a lot of complex arithmetic to generate one unit of the currency, sometimes referred to as a bitcoin. Like physical gold, there is some work required to mine for these bitcoins. It lies in the ability to create a computing environment capable of performing these intensive mathematical operations. You may not be panning for gold but you might spend as much on equipment and travel.

For a good basic description of the blockchain technology, see the article on Medium.

The other aspect about cryptocurrency is that the blockchain technology allows for both anonymous and secure transactions. Think of the blockchain as a giant ledger that is copied wherever bitcoin is accepted with regular updates. There is no single source that could control the ledger nor is there a single point of failure.

However, both its strengths are its greatest weaknesses.

While the value of money is regulated by their respective government there are no blockchain regulations. There is no regulation on the number of generated bitcoins but is arbitrarily set by the creator of the cryptocurrency. There is no guarantee of value as a state-sponsored currency. Bitcoin investors are betting on the value of electronics and math, something many of these investors does not fully understand.

The blockchain also provides its own problems. In order to use the cryptocurrency, you have to have your own copy of the ledger and be able to pass the information to the party you want to pay. Think about having a checkbook with everyone’s information. You cannot read the information because it is encrypted but you have to have a copy. Then you need to pay someone. You hand over the checkbook in order to complete the transaction.

Think about the amount of data that would be if the blockchain supported 1,000 people. What would it take to support 1 million people? What if the government decided that everyone would do their business in bitcoin and everyone would have to have a way to deal with the blockchain in order to facilitate payments. How cumbersome will that ledger be if all 325.7 million people in the United States had to carry that around?

Each blockchain is its own entity. While you can trade in bitcoins on the same blockchain, you may have to participate in more than one blockchain if you want to accept bitcoins from several different people. It is like different currencies today. I can go anywhere in the United States and use dollars. But if I wanted to go to Canada, I can either arrange an exchange or find someone who will trade.

Cryptocurrency that has to operate across different blockchains is just like going to Europe and having to change your dollars for euros.

1881 Tracy’s Counterfeit Detector and Bank Note Reporter (Image courtesy of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society)

As with anything that is computer-based and managed, there is always the security issues. Blockchains have been hacked. Although most of the hacks are based on compromised passwords, each hack yields millions of dollars in stolen cryptocurrency to the hackers and everyone who then does business with them on the same blockchain.

Eventually, this will lead to a cryptocurrency version of a Bank Note Reporter and Counterfeit Detector as was popular during the broken banknote period. Then it will be followed by a Cryptocurrency Act similar to the Currency Act that ended the broken banknote period proving George Santayana right as we repeat history.

Cryptocurrency is the darling of the technology industry and those in the financial industry that trade in high-risk investments. Even traditional financial services companies are spending a limited amount of risk capital on cryptocurrency investments. However, by all statistics, the number of consumers using cryptocurrency for transactions is less than 1-percent.

If Not Cryptocurrency The What About Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards remain the primary target that proponents of a cashless society use to promote their agenda. However, when faced with the realities of life in the United States, there are three statistics that work against their arguments:

  1. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the printer of United States currency, reports a year-over-year increase in production of just over 4-percent.
  2. The U.S. Mint, the manufacturer of United States coinage, is reporting a year-over-year increase of 6-percent striking circulating coinage.
  3. According to CreditCards.com, “In 2013, 20 percent of whites did not have access to a credit card compared with 47 percent of African-Americans and 30 percent of Latinos.”

The primary customer for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and U.S. Mint is the Federal Reserve. If the Federal Reserve needs the money for its operations, they buy it from these government bureaus. The Federal Reserve only orders what it needs. If it does not need the money, then it is not produced.

Aside from the over 50-percent of the population without access to credit cards, there continues to be a demand for physical currency. Whether the currency is used in a vending machine or to buy other items, cash is still king and shows no sign of slowing.

While there continues to be a demand for the products from the U.S. Mint and Bureau of Engraving and Printing, these bureaus will continue to produce coins and currency giving us more opportunity to collect their products.

Weekly World Numismatic News for June 3, 2018

Zimbabwe’s 2009 $100 trillion hyperinflation note

For those of you who do not like where politics and policy cross the line into numismatics, this post is not for you. Skip past the beginning into the news section below.

In the news this week was a story about the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe touting the adoption of Chinese currency for general use in the country as circulating currency.

Zimbabwe’s economy has seen wild swings between massive inflation and significant economic stagnation that has caused currency fluctuations so bad that the country has given up managing its own currency. The economic problems have created a hyperinflation currency with notes printed with denominations as high as 100 Trillion Zimbabwean Dollars. So many of these notes were printed that any collector can buy them for $5-10 each.

Because of trade restrictions, Zimbabweans turned to United States currency smuggled from outside of the country. The supply of United States currency was so limited that some had begun the practice of cleaning the paper because people were carrying their currency in their underwear and new notes were difficult to come by.

Following negotiations with the United States, the RBZ was able to obtain new currency notes and offered an exchange to its residents. But that is where the negotiations ended. Upon the change of administrations, the current Department of the Treasury stopped negotiating with Zimbabwe and other African nations to introduce additional trade in United States dollars.

As the United States began to abandon these countries, the Chinese stepped in. The Chinese government has been negotiating with these countries and have made several inroads, especially in Africa. Zimbabwe is just the latest to announce that they could adopt the Yuan as their currency.

Although Zimbabwe is not an influential economy, it expands the Chinese economic base in Africa. By chipping away at the United States economic influence, it reduces the impact of the dollar on the continent that could have an effect on numismatics.

Africa continues to have the largest deposits of precious metals. Southern African regions have the world’s most active gold, silver, and platinum mines that if the United States loses influence in the region could have a negative effect on worldwide precious metals prices.

It is not a matter of the golden rule, “He who has the gold rules,” it is a matter of who controls the flow of gold from those mines. If the Chinese control the economic engine that runs those mines, they can use that influence to make or break the markets as they see fit. The ripple effect could not only bring higher precious metals prices but worldwide economic instability.

History has taught us that market manipulating does not work except if the manipulators have a backup plan. In this case, the Chinese are using their treasury as the backup plan. They are amassing economic power that could manipulate markets to the point that would cause prices to rise.

Currently, precious metals prices are set by arrangement with the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) based on the daily auction prices in London. This is known as the London Fix Price. The market uses United States dollars for its pricing. However, if the dollar loses its economic power because the Chinese are controlling the markets where the metals are mined, it will affect the cost of everything.

In the short term, economic factors will affect the price of bullion being produced by the U.S. Mint since those prices are based on LBMA price averages. Collectors and investors will be hit first. After that, it would be a short time before economic instability hits everyone else.

And now the news…

 May 27, 2018

If you visit Stones River National Battlefield and Cemetery, you'll likely see coins on the top of many tombstones. According to park workers, the small mementos are a way some choose to pay their respects to the fallen soldier, and each kind of coin has a different meaning. → Read more at newschannel5.com


 May 27, 2018

In this edition of East Idaho Newsmakers, Nate Eaton speaks with Randy’L Teton. Teton is a Fort Hall native and is featured on the US Sacagawea dollar gold coin. She is the only living person to currently appear on a United States coin. During their conversation, Teton shares the fascinating story of how she ended … → Read more at eastidahonews.com


 May 28, 2018

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The Finance Ministry said Friday that it will issue a silver coin to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 1868 start of the country’s Meiji period, which ended in 1912. → Read more at the-japan-news.com


 May 29, 2018

Ahmed Mohamed Fahmy Yousef has spent the last academic year at the University of Colorado conducting research on learning technologies and instructional design in computer science education. → Read more at dailycamera.com


 May 29, 2018

Tawanda Musarurwa, Harare Bureau The adoption of Renmimbi/Yuan as a reserve currency, will help the country repay loans and grants from China, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has said. → Read more at chronicle.co.zw


 June 1, 2018

Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed a 2,200-year-old gold coin depicting the ancient King Ptolemy III, an ancestor of the famed Cleopatra. → Read more at foxnews.com


 June 1, 2018

An ancient Egyptian coin discovered in far north Queensland has researchers questioning how it got there. → Read more at abc.net.au


 June 3, 2018

The Royal Canadian Mint unveiled their first-ever panda-themed coin at the Calgary Zoo. → Read more at thestar.com

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Weekly Numismatic World News for October 1, 2017

Adolph Alexander Weinman
(1870-1952)

Although the U.S. Mint has started shipping American Palladium Eagles, few have been available on the daily market. Most bullion dealers are offering these coins as a pre-sale with the expectation of receiving their coins on or about October 10 for shipment shortly thereafter.

Pre-sale prices are averaging $85-200 over the spot price, which is currently $928.00 on the world market. Since the U.S. Mint only sells coins to authorized dealers, those dealers will act as wholesalers down the chain. Each time a coin changes hands, there will be a markup. A coin can pass through a few hands before being offered for sale to the public.

And these prices are before the dealers rush to slab these coins. I am sure those grading MS-70 will go for significant premiums!

If you are interested in buying the coin, I would recommend shopping around. However, if you have a favorite dealer and there is not much of a difference between an online price and the dealer, you may want to consider supporting your local dealer!

And now the news…

 September 25, 2017

Shoppers have been reminded by the Royal Mint that the deadline for using the round pounds is October 15, before they are replaced forever by a 12-sided coin. → Read more at dailymail.co.uk


 September 26, 2017

After more than a thousand years of service, the Paris mint has thrown its doors open to the public with a vast exhibition of treasures, collectors' coins and a view of the craftsmen in their workshops. → Read more at reuters.com


 September 26, 2017

Congressman Richard Neal has been leading the effort to mint the coin celebrating the sport’s anniversary. → Read more at wwlp.com


 September 26, 2017

When I become the Supreme Overlord of the Earth and all its satellites, or Secretary of the Treasury (I plan on becoming one of those … → Read more at nevadasagebrush.com


 September 27, 2017

A new 50p coin celebrating Sir Isaac Newton can now be snapped up by people visiting his birthplace and family home. Just 375 of the coins are being released into tills at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire. → Read more at standard.co.uk


 September 28, 2017

A Sheffield man who collects rare banknotes and coins says South Yorkshire people can make plenty of money as Britain makes the switch to polymer currency. → Read more at thestar.co.uk

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Image courtesy of USA Coinbook.

Weekly Numismatic World News for September 24, 2017

On Monday, the U.S. Mint will begin selling palladium bullion coins to authorized purchasers. The opening price will probably be $976.44 per coin, which is 6.25-percent over the spot price of $919 per troy ounce.

Metal prices have not followed a path that market watchers are familiar with. Platinum is usually more expensive per troy ounce than gold but has been less while palladium usually tracks at half of the price of gold.

With all of the turmoil in the world, the price of gold is relatively flat with spikes for various activities in the news. But an investor who bought at the beginning of the year “complains” that the price is up only 12-percent for the year despite fundamentals that suggest a larger gain. Recent events have caused the price to jump, but one investor told me that gold is a safe bet but it is not a good bet if you are looking to make money.

A dealer that sells silver has called the market schizophrenic. There are swings in the prices that defy market logic. With stricter regulation, higher demand, and flat production growth, the price of silver should be climbing. But it is relatively flat for the year with a 6.4-percent grown.

Some are even suggesting that the silver market is being manipulated.

I do not know if the market is being manipulated, but the experts are telling me that something is not right.

 September 15, 2017

Even coin production mints make mistakes. If you have a coin that’s a product of one of these mistakes, it’s probably worth way more than face value. → Read more at rd.com


 September 17, 2017

Summary There is considerable evidence that silver is subject to considerable manipulation. Revelations of manipulation from regulatory investigations and lawsuits in recent years have led to the introduction of stricter regulations and oversight. → Read more at seekingalpha.com


 September 18, 2017

The second batch of commemorative coins minted for the funeral of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej have proved very popular after being available for reservations on Monday. Long queues were seen since early in the morning at designated venues nationwide. → Read more at nationmultimedia.com


 September 23, 2017

HYDERABAD: Hyderabad of yore had carved a niche of its own in the spheres of culture, commerce, language and festivals. → Read more at timesofindia.indiatimes.com

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Certainty

Since the election, there have been a number of stories about the “Trump Effect” on the markets. The narrative is that the economic bounce is tied specifically to the election of Trump.

The premise is that the market is reacting to the election of Donald Trump and is the direct cause for the change in the economic factors in the markets. Unfortunately, the narratives being promoted is shortsighted. Markets are not reacting to the election of Trump. The markets are reacting to the certainty that the election is settled.

Markets hate uncertainty. When there is uncertainty, the markets tend to react to everything and sometimes in an exaggerated manner. Fortunately, the economic indicators have been good and the markets have reacted accordingly with exaggeration.

How the markets have reacted to uncertainty in economic news

When looking at the collecting markets, whether it is numismatics or antiques, you can look at the precious metals markets as a key indicator. In basic terms, the price of precious metals is indirectly proportional to the strength of the markets and economy. It translates to if the economy is strong making investing less of a risk, then the precious metals markets will be weaker. it means there is more cash circulating creating discretionary income that buyers use to spend on non-essentials, like hobbies.

A strong market and economy means that investments in businesses are a better bet. Strong employment numbers and the movement of goods and services mean that there is money to be made by investing in business. If there are good investment opportunities, it does not make sense for investors to tie money up in precious metals.

Investment in metals makes sense when investing in their value is better than the expected rate of return on business investments. Once investors turn to precious metals, the price is based purely on supply and demand. Since the supply stream is relatively constant, demand mostly influences the price of metals. If the demand is high and the supply cannot keep up with the demand, the price will rise. What helps regulate the price is that there continues to be a supply but the demand has been known to outpace the supply.

The fact of the matter is that economic indicators have improved. Prices of metals have been steadily dropping since August as the investment in stocks been going up. Even before the election, the markets were in growth mode but skittish with uncertainty.

All the election brought was a certainty. Markets know who the next president will be, who will be in congress, and who will control the state houses. If markets hate uncertainty then the currency that fueled the rally was the removal of uncertainty.

After the week following the election, the markets leveled off with the next goal to figure out what the Federal Reserve would do. With the uncertainty surrounding the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, the drive to record levels stalled. When the FOMC announced the increase in interest rates, rather than reacting negatively, the reactions was as if the markets were saying, “It’s about time.” with the uncertainty of what the FOMC would do, the markets reacted by climbing to record levels.

Market reactions to various news and economic events

In the meantime, the metals markets have been on a steady decline. Since the capital markets are providing a good return on investments, there is no incentive to invest in metals. Although people are buying, the fewer buyers are beating the prices down making bullion-based collectibles cheaper.

Gold free fall began on Election Day 2016

Silver downward trend started on Election Day

What does that have to do with higher end collectibles such as rare coins?

When capital markets are adding to the general wealth of the investor community, they will look for different places to invest their winnings. The new money will start to buy high-end items to supplement their other investments. This is why the collector market thrives during good economic times. Prices of fine art, prime real estate, collector cars, and even rare coins rise.

Rare coins have been resilient since the decline in markets. Rare coins became a safer bet and have attracted new investors which has bucked the trends of the past. This was not lost on the broader investing community who may be looking for diversity in their portfolios.

In review, the markets have been on a six-year rise as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession. Economic indicators are on an extended positive run. The election created certainty in the future of the government and the Federal Reserve created certainty when it raised interest rates. Since markets like certainty, the reaction is not because of the result of the election it is that the election is over.

Certainty is driving the markets, not the details of the results.

Credits

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average charts courtesy of Yahoo! Finance.
  • Gold and silver charts courtesy of Kitco.

Quick catch up…

Last I reported, I had travelled to Philadelphia to see the students at Juaniata Park Academy that we raised money to visit the U.S. Mint and Federal Reserve. I did make it to the school despite the flat tire and other problems my Chevy Avalanche experienced along the way. We did have a one-hour visit to talk about coins, currency, and the history they reveal. I had a lot of fun. Rather than talk about it in this update, I will write a longer post soon.

Counterfeiting is on the rise. The number of reported arrests for counterfeiters has increased. Some of it may be attributed to the largest seizure of counterfeit currency in Peru. Although not confirmed, there is speculation that the arrests in Peru provided leads into the distribution network. The Peru notes are amongst the best counterfeits produced outside of the United States. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to determine if you have one of these notes. The U.S. Secret Service has been advising cash-related businesses to be wary of people making unusual large cash purchases.

The U.S. Mint is preparing for an increase in sale of bullion American Eagle coins. Gold is down over $230 since its high in July or $151 since the election. Even with the strong dollar, the lower price of gold and the trust in the American Eagle coin is driving buyers to authorized dealers. One dealer said that 2017 pre-orders are their highest in a while.

The market for silver is facing a similar downward slide. From the $20.17 close in the beginning of August, the price as this is being written is $15.90. A 21-percent drop in silver spot prices is quite large over this period and greater than the 17-percent drop in the gold spot price.

Lower spot prices may be driving speculators to the market. Since the Federal Reserve Board increased the discount rate, the rate they charge for overnight loans to their large customers that are required to have a certain amount of liquidity at market close, by 250 basis points (.25 percent), there are some that believe that the markets are getting ready for a shift. Precious metals are always used as a hedge against inflation investments and may be a sign that some are expecting an economic crash.

A future post will discuss the coin-op industry’s reaction (albeit late reaction) to the GAO Report U.S. Coins: Implications of Changing Medal Compositions (GAO-16-177, Dec. 10, 2015). It appears to be an attempt for the coin-op industry to fight composition changes in U.S. coinage. Although most of their argument reads like a complaint that they do not want to undergo the cost of converting machines, they do make a point in that some of the alternatives has the potential to create a market for counterfeiting coins that would hurt the economy. One example they site is that it may be easier to counterfeit plated steel coins because the technology that checks for electromagnetic signatures of the coins would not be able to detect a real coin from a slug.

Following my post about the scrap industry not being able to return mutilated coins to the U.S. Mint I was contacted by someone in the industry who thanked me for the story. I was asked to emphasize that although the current court case involves companies based in China, the problems affect scrap dealers throughout the United States. Following this conversation, I was able to speak with a broker who has been buying scrap coins from smaller companies who said that the U.S. Mint has been discussing a way forward but in a way that makes it sound like they are not happy with having to deal with this situation. The U.S. Mint will not comment as long as there is an active case in federal courts.

The Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act is now Public Law 114-282. Although I am not a collector of commemorative coins other than for topics that interest me, I am interested in this topic. Although I am a fan of silver coins, I am going to try to buy the gold Apollo 11 commemorative coin. I have two years to save my pennies!

Finally, I am working on creating a weekly newsletter opt-in containing numismatic-related stories from non-numismatic media sources from around the world. I will curate the news that appears in the newsletter but want to automate some of the processes. Automation of the workflow is in progress. Watch for the signup process to appear here soon!

Cash is being called spooky!

Cash seems to be the new 4-lettered word.

Swedish CurrencyIn February, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers authored an opinion article that appeared in The Washington Post calling for the end of high-denomination banknotes. Summers cites a paper that claims to make a compelling case to stop issuing high denomination notes and possibly withdraw them from circulation because of its use in crime and corruption because large denominations are easier to carry. The paper claims that criminals have nicknamed the €500 note the “Bin Laden.”

Last May, the European Central Bank announced will stop printing the €500 banknote by the end of 2018 when the €100 and €200 banknotes of the Europa series are planned to be introduced. Although the announcement did not quote the Summers article, the announcement had addressed some of the issues he addressed.

In June, Sweden became the first nation to announce a formal policy to become a cashless society within five years. According to reports, Riksbank, the Swedish central bank, claims that just under 2-percent of all transactions are made by cash. They expect that number to drop to one-half of one-percent by 2020. Most shops report that 20-percent of sales are made using cash.

Sweden may be an outlier. Globally about 75-percent of all sales are made using cash.

In the United States, it is being reported that some higher-end retailers have stopped taking cash.

Retailers have been looking to the convenience industries as an example of the future. There are parking lots that no longer take coins in their parking meters. Pay stations now only accept credit cards. Some toll roads now require a special transponder to be mounted in your car because there are no booths to collect tolls. Those transponders must be linked to a credit card. Airlines no longer take cash when you buy beverages or snacks on the plane because handling the change is too difficult.

New payment options have entered the market. Smartphone-based Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and MasterCard Master Pass have worked to make it easier to separate you from your money by allowing you to wave your phone at the reader and pay. For most retailers, there is little they have to do in order to accept these payment methods as long as they are accepting chip-based transactions. Since the transaction cost to the retailer does not change, it is an incentive for them to accept these types of electronic payments.

Although electronic payment options make up 13-percent of all cashless transactions you have to remember that this market barely existed a few years ago.

Even as banks and large retailers push to increase the number cashless transaction, there are problems that society faces when moving to a cashless retail system.

The biggest problem is one of scale. The United States makes more money, spends more money, trades more money, and has more economic impact than any other country in the world. It is the world’s single largest economy with a strong capitalistic culture where most of the commerce is done with small businesses. Amongst all business, 55-percent of retail merchants are cash-only enterprises. They are too small to consider paying the 3-to-5 percent fees for using a credit card, known as the “swipe fee.” Of those that do take credit cards, at least 36-percent require a minimum purchase.

Once you get past the problem of scale, then there are the issues of the poor who do not have bank accounts. Aside from not having the economic power to work with the banks, there are some communities that are culturally opposed to the banking system. Even if they can afford to have a bank account, many choose not to open one. The near failure of large financial institutions in 2008 did not help in the trust factor.

Of course, the one cultural issue that cannot be ignored is privacy. Cash transactions are private. Only the buyer and seller knows the details of the transaction (unless the buyer volunteers their loyalty or rewards account information). With the problems of hacking around the world, how do you know that your credit card transaction are safe? Should we ask the victims of the computer hacks on Target and Home Depot?

Aside from privacy, credit cards can be costly to the customer. High-interest rates, debilitating debt, and collection issues see the use of consumer credit dropping when there is an economic downturn. During the Great Recession that began in 2008, spending went down and, when the economy began to improve, savings went up. When wages began to rise in 2010, more money was being spent paying down debt than adding to the economy. Rather than stimulating the economy, this creates a stagnant effect since the economy thrives more on the selling of goods and not by the managing of cash.

It seems that every six months there is yet another “Chicken Little” story that either we are or should stop using cash. But when society seems to be set in using cash even when there is anecdotal evidence that makes it appear that we are on the brink of a cashless society, they become quiet as if they ended up in Foxey Loxey’s den!

Reports of cash’s eventual demise appear to be as amusing as it is greatly exaggerated. For numismatists, this means that our hobby will continue to grow with new, fresh material for years to come. Happy collecting!

image courtesy of The Guardian

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