First, the data. The following has been reported since New Year’s eve horn-blowers were put away:
2. A director at Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong: "I don't have
7. 2010 gold Buffalo coins are largely unavailable from dealers.
8. Sales of silver Eagles set a new record in January – by the 19th of
Based on this data alone, you might come to the conclusion that yes, we’re running low on bullion supply. But most industry execs I spoke to insist this is a “bottleneck” issue: current demand is greater than current stock on hand, or is coming in faster than mints can produce. In other words, it’s a fabrication issue, not a supply deficit. A Treasury rep said as much.
You’ll recall from 2008 how supply was difficult to come by and premiums were roughly double what they are now. Some think it will be “lesson learned” this time around; mints now know how to prepare for another spike in demand. Many have added workers, shifts, and facilities. The U.S. Mint stopped producing the less popular coins and now focuses on those that are most in demand.
To a large extent, I believe the bottleneck argument is exactly what’s happening. It’s no different than the store that sells old-fashioned wooden rocking chairs suddenly getting swamped with customers when an antique dealer declares they’ll be valuable collectibles in the future. Collectors rush to buy, and the store doesn’t have enough rocking chairs in its warehouse. But they’re not running out of wood. And they’ll likely be better prepared when they hear the dealer is coming out with a book.
It’s true there’s only so much gold coming to market every year (total 2010 supply is estimated to have been about 115 million ounces), but in the big picture, there’s been enough. It’s also true that orders from the 2008 rush were eventually filled. However, I think the “bottleneck” and “we’re running out” arguments miss the point, because they both focus on supply.
3. Gold and gold mining stocks represented 26% of all global assets
4. The market cap of the entire gold industry is about the size of
Yes, there is a bottleneck. But with this recent spike in demand, it appears some mints still aren’t equipped to keep up. Are we nearing a tipping point where in spite of the increased efficiency and preparedness, requests from buyers will outweigh available supply? Imagine demand continuing to accelerate, and you can see where this might be headed. I think this is the side of the equation to watch.
Andy Schectman of bullion dealer Miles Franklin told me last summer that, “Based on what I know, it’s my opinion that if 5% of this country put 5% of their money into gold, there would be nothing left tomorrow morning.” In other words, even if supply is sufficient at present, what happens if demand, say, doubles, as the above data show is possible?
Right now in North America you can still get bullion, but we’re clearly on a path where demand could overwhelm the system, making purchases very difficult. When that point arrives, many investors will wish they hadn’t worried so much about price.
Imagine Doug Casey is right about the future value of the dollar: zero. Imagine how high inflation would rocket in such a scenario.
Bottleneck, meet desperation.
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