U.S. Mint Halts Gold Coin Sales

Launched in 1986, the American eagle bullion program has grown into a popular way for investors to buy gold and silver coins. This liquid avenue to collect and invest in bullion has morphed into a bonanza for coin dealers this decade amid a bull market in precious metals.

But for the first time since its inception, the U.S. Mint, part of the Treasury Department, halted the same of coins last Friday.

According to the U.S. Mint, inventories of gold and silver coins simply ran out on August 15. The institution has sold 311,000 ounces of the coins this year – about 50% more than in 2007; despite the big drop in gold and silver prices since July, buyers accumulated 63,500 ounces of the precious metals coins the first two weeks of August alone.

Perusing gold-bug blogs reveals that some investors and collectors think the government is behind a plan to hoard its inventory. The ongoing credit crisis, now in its twelfth month, shows no signs of abating as inter-bank lending rates remain elevated, housing values continue to plummet and bank lending continues to tighten.

Is the government anticipating a financial meltdown, and if so is banning physical gold ownership on the horizon?

The last time Americans were banned from owning gold bullion was back in April 1933 when FDR issued an Executive Order making physical gold ownership illegal. The government subsequently confiscated Americans’ private holdings at $20.67 an ounce.

By August 1971, President Nixon, under the weight of accumulating deficits and rising inflation, broke the gold standard and freed gold from the shackles of government. Gold recently hit an all-time high in March at $1,033 an ounce. Adjusted for inflation since peaking at $850 an ounce in 1980, gold prices are valued at approximately $2,200 an ounce.

We’ll never know the motives behind last week’s termination of gold coin sales. Government hoarding might be part of the mystery – but not the whole story.

I’ve got a feeling supply is a major problem, too. Global mine production has declined markedly since 2006 with major producers in South Africa and Australia producing far less gold compared to just ten years ago. More mining companies are increasing reserves through acquisitions of smaller potentially lucrative mines rather than boosting exploration capital on existing properties. And despite the big decline in Indian fabrication demand this year amid soaring prices until recently, net supplies are still tight for gold.

If you can’t buy gold coins domestically for whatever reason, consider opening a foreign bank account in Switzerland or Austria and buy your gold and silver overseas. You can do this easily through the purchase of gold certificates or physical delivery, which is much more expensive. Exchange traded funds (ETFs) are also convenient but don’t provide direct ownership and leave the possibility open to confiscation. If you can only own gold through an ETF then do this in Switzerland where four precious metals ETFs trade in Zurich under the ZKB ETF umbrella.

Maybe the gold window is starting to close again. Tough economic times usually imply drastic measures. Before it’s too late, make sure you have at least 10% of your net wealth stored in physical gold.

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