New U.S. Mint Coins a Golden Opportunity
In April, the U.S. Mint revealed plans to strike in early 2006 new .9999 bullion coins to go after the growing world market for .9999 fine (24-karat) gold coins. Studies show that pure gold coins claim 60% of the world’s gold bullion coin market, which is some $2.4 billion annually. The Royal Canadian Mint’s Maple Leafs hold the number one spot for pure gold coins. However, problems with Maple Leafs have surfaced.
If the Mint avoids the problems that have developed with Gold Maple Leafs, it has a golden opportunity to grab an even bigger share of the gold bullion coin market. The U.S. Mint’s American Gold Eagles are the best selling 22-karat gold coins in the world Coinmarkets.
Despite being the world’s best-selling 24-karat gold coins, 1-oz Maple Leafs’ design and packaging leave them susceptible to damage. As a result, Gold Maple Leafs have fallen in disfavor among U.S. gold bullion coin investors. Indications are that gold bullion coin investors worldwide have the same frustrations with 1-oz Gold Maple Leaf coins.
It is nearly impossible to remove, inspect, and put 1-oz Gold Maple Leafs back in their tubes without scratching them, no matter how carefully done. Gold Maple Leafs have smooth, clear fields around Queen Elizabeth’s likeness and sharp milled edges. As the coins are put back in their tubes, the edges scratch the fields–and sometimes the Queen’s raised image.
And, Heaven forbid that a 1-oz Gold Maple Leaf is dropped on a floor or even a hard tabletop. But, most of the damage is done when investors handle the coins. If Gold Maple Leafs are handled roughly, as investors are used to handling Krugerrands and Gold Eagles, Gold Maple Leafs are easily damaged. Consequently, many badly damaged Gold Maple Leafs have come back into the secondary market.
Until a few years ago, Gold Eagles and Maple Leafs sold at the same markups over spot. But, as Maple Leafs, which investors have bought since 1979, started coming into the secondary market, problems surfaced. Now, to keep investors in the U.S. market buying Maple Leafs, the Royal Canadian Mint has to offer new (current year) Gold Maple Leafs at a half-a-percent below Gold Eagle prices.
Damaged 1-oz Gold Maple Leafs are such a problem that one important secondary market maker stopped dealing in the coins for a while. The head trader said he did not have time to discuss with buyers and sellers the conditions of the coins. Further, he said his staff did not have time to inspect each coin and classify it as to the amount of damage. It is commonplace for sellers to say the coins are in “perfect condition.” Yet when Gold Maple Leafs arrive, they often are badly scratched or rim nicked.
Another major bullion dealer (perhaps the nation’s largest) currently buys back “perfect” Gold Maple leafs from established dealers at a little over spot, which means investors receive less than spot if their dealers unload to this firm. For scratched or damaged coins, this firm pays less than spot, which enables the firm to send the coins to a refinery at a profit if the firm has no buyers for Gold Maple Leafs.
The secondary dealer returned to trading Gold Maple Leafs but buys all them only at prices that enable him to profitably melt the coins if they are really beat up. As noted, because of the problem with secondary market Gold Maple Leafs, the Royal Canadian Mint has to price Gold Maple Leafs below Gold Eagles to entice investors to take Gold Maple Leafs in the U.S. market.
Luckily–the free market being what it is–there are dealers who will take the time to evaluate Gold Maple Leafs and pay more for the ones in better condition. Still, the spread (the difference between what an investor can buy and sell for at any moment) on “perfect” Gold Maple Leafs is about $4 wider than on Gold Eagles. However, the U.S. Mint’s new 24-karat gold coins need not be problem coins.
For example, the 1-oz Austrian Philharmonics and The Perth Mint’s 1-oz coins are .9999 fine. Yet, these coins are not easily damaged during normal handling because of their designs and/or their packaging.
Philharmonics come ten to a tube and can be taken out and put back in their tubes without scratching. The Perth Mint coins come individually encapsulated in hard plastic capsules. As long as Perth Mint coins remain in their capsules, they maintain their perfect conditions.
Hopefully, the U.S. Mint knows of the problems with Gold Maple Leafs and will design its new .9999 fine coins and their packaging so that the coins are not easily scratched or damaged. If the Mint opts to go with packaging its new coins in tubes, as it does Gold Eagles and as Philharmonics are packaged, then the Mint needs to avoid milled edges.
Although Gold Eagles have milled edges, old U.S. gold coins ($20 Libs and St. Gaudens) were minted with lettering on the edges. So, lettering is not new to the U.S. Mint. With lettering, the edges can be smooth, making the coins less likely to scratch other coins in handling. Philharmonics, which are not prone to damage, have lettering on their edges.