Monday, February 03, 2014

Silver Panda Coins Outperformed Silver Eagles

Current year Chinese silver pandas usually sell for a few dollars more than Silver American Eagles.  For example, 2014 BU 1 oz Silver Eagles are currently retailing for about $6 over spot while 2014 Silver 1 oz Pandas are about $9 over spot (single coin price, excluding shipping).  This is because the China mint charges more for their coins than the US Mint, Panda mintages are lower, and demand for Pandas within China is seemingly insatiable

American silver buyers will sometimes shy away from Pandas because they don't want to "overpay" for silver bullion.  If you plan someday to melt your coins or trade them post-apocalypse, then by all means, spend as little as possible.  However, if you are looking for investment return, please take a look at the two charts below.

These charts show the current retail price of China silver pandas and US Silver Eagles (coins dated 2004 to 2014) on ebay and other mainstream retail websites (spot silver current near $20).  While the eagles certainly have tracked the price of silver, Pandas have greatly exceeded eagles at holding their US dollar value, despite the decline in silver prices in 2013.

So for example, a 2010 silver Eagle purchased in December 2010 would have cost about $30, and a 2010 silver Panda would have cost about $33. (spot was ~$24 at the time) Today the Eagle is worth about $27 while the Panda sells for about $40.

As you can see, silver eagles have not really appreciated vs silver, while pandas have continued to increase.

Dec 2010 PriceDec 2013 PriceGain
Silver Eagle BU$30$27-10%
Silver Panda BU$33$4021%

The reasons for this include low mintages and high demand for silver pandas.  In 2013, 8 million pandas were sold while the US Mint sold more than 40 million eagles!  In addition, pandas are widely viewed as more beautiful and collectible then their somewhat boring US counterpart.

Over the past 10 years (actually since 1983), Silver pandas have delivered a better US dollar return than other bullion silver coins.  If you are looking for a little extra zip in your silver investment, Chinese Pandas may be an good option.

With Silver prices at 4 year lows, perhaps now is a good time to consider stocking up on silver pandas.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Ongoing Case for Chinese Gold and Silver Coins

With gold languishing around $1300/oz and Chinese Pandas trading below recent highs, it is time to re-look at the fundamental trends that have been driving the bull market.

A Brief History

Let's begin with a little history.  Back in 2005, the time I consider the beginning of the Chinese coin bull market, most Chinese gold and silver coins were trading just slightly above bullion melt value. Spot gold was trading near $430/oz, well above it's 2001 low near $260, and Pandas were just an interesting form of bullion. The only coin well above spot was a really nice 1982 1 oz, which I can remember buying for the outrageous price of $800!  Everything else traded from +5% to perhaps +20% above spot.

Today, very few gem quality Pandas and other Chinese coins trade anywhere near spot. Only the most common panda dates, like 1987 and 2013, trade in lock-step with bullion. Many now trade at prices 3 to 4 times gold (see earlier blog postings for examples). Paradoxically, many US gold coins, such as the famous $20 Gold Double Eagle and $10 Eagle, have barely kept up with bullion over the same time period.  Why has this happened, and have the fundamental reasons changed?

American vs Chinese Style Investing

Back in the 1970s gold bull market, American investors who wanted gold had few choices.  Double eagles, gold bars, Krugerrands, or perhaps a risky bet on a mining stock.  The result was very high prices for desirable American coins.  Today, Americans (and Europeans) have many paper-market investment opportunities, such has gold and silver ETFs, that absorb investor demand at the click of a mouse. Furthermore, westerners still trust their banking institutions and governments to honor the paper contracts for gold and silver, and to protect bank account savings from theft and fraud.

Chinese investors see the world quite differently.  Banks and stock markets, while useful, represent substantial risk to the individual investor. Institutions are controlled by government and are subject to changing political winds and exposed to corruption.  Too much visible wealth is dangerous and should be hidden.  Tangible assets are now, and historically, the safest way to save and invest.

China's Response to US Monetary Policy

The flood of US dollars that has entered China over the last 15 years has created much wealth for the Chinese upper classes.  However, the Chinese leadership appears to recognize that the uncontrolled expansion of US credit is unsustainable in the long term, so they have encouraged investment in tangible assets to counterbalance the risks intrinsic to the trillion dollars of US Treasuries they hold.  Important examples include, China real estate, infrastructure investments, and massive purchases of African resources. And of course, massive imports of gold - in excess of 100 tons per month so far in 2013!

The above data only includes official imports from Hong Kong.  There are certainly large quantities coming in via other, more private channels.  China is clearly taking advantage of the current lower prices offered by the western futures markets.

The Niche Market for Panda Coins

The entire Panda coin market is tiny when compared to the tons of bulk metal being imported on a monthly basis.  However, the economic forces driving the import of gold bars also underpin the Panda coins.  These include the overt government promotion of gold coins as a investment for Chinese citizens, nationalist sentiments toward what is has become the signature gold and silver coin of China, and the desire to hold wealth in a portable, liquid, and private form.  The strong private market demand was demonstrated by the success of the gold Panda Master Sets offered by Chinese banks, at $200K each, to wealthy customers last spring.  Although that recent buying surge is done, there is no reason to believe that there will not be similar promotions in the future.

In recent news, the Chinese government has now further removed barriers to gold import. The PBOC announced that individuals can now import seven ounces of gold tax free and without reporting to customs.  It seems like they are almost begging the people to buy gold coins!

The Fundamentals are Still Strong and the Trend is in Motion

The Chinese coin market is underpinned by key fundamentals

  • Huge China demand for gold of all types
  • Active promotion of gold by the Chinese government
  • The desire of wealthy Chinese citizens for portable, private, wealth protection
  • The ongoing currency war by the US Federal reserve
  • The patriotic desire to own the official gold and silver coins of the nation
  • Excellent past price performance will attract further speculation
  • New tax relief for import of gold coins by individuals
  • Very thin dealer inventories means few coins available to meet demand.

Speculative markets are known for having wild swings up and down - especially Chinese markets.  Roller coasters are the norm.  However, a collector who buys carefully and hangs on for the long haul is likely to be well rewarded.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Gold & Silver Panda Coin Buyer's Guide Book - 2nd Edition

The new Second Edition of the Gold & Silver Panda Coin Buyer's Guide by Peter Anthony is now available.  This book is the essential panda coin collectors reference book.

It also makes a great holiday gift for the Panda coin collector in your life!

The new 2nd editions covers Pandas up to 2013, add coverage for Unicorns, and includes new detailed information about key Pandas varieties

I highly recommend this book!

The Gold and Silver Panda Coin Buyer's Guide Second Edition is a comprehensive guide to Pandas.

bookimage3Its 256 pages provide unique insights, photos and the best reference in print about nearly 600 charming -- and often valuable -- coins in this growing family.
From basketball games to kite festivals to international diplomacy, the second edition of the Gold and Silver Panda Coin Buyer's Guide tells the stories behind the Panda coins and their native country. It will bring hours of enjoyment to all coin lovers -- from experts to beginners.
Besides beauty, Pandas offer outstanding profit potential. Pandas that used to be sold as bullion now cost thousands of dollars. 
Many valuable coins still trade hands based on their metal content because buyers and sellers don’t realize their scarcity. High profits are already going to those who know which is which. The second edition of the Gold and Silver Panda Coin Buyer's Guide is the only book that gives you the information to pinpoint overlooked and undervalued Pandas — the coins most likely to rise farthest and fastest.

Highlights include:
Photos of Panda coins and medals from 1982-2013
Weights, metal content and mintage for each coin
Identifies best buys
Expanded estimates of current B.U. populations
Includes platinum, palladium coins and medals
New varieties described and analyzed
NEW! Panda catalog numbering system
Bonus chapter on Unicorns
256 pages
English-Chinese for selected key facts

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

2013 "Shanghai Memory" Jewish Ghetto Panda Coins - Beautiful Low Mintage Panda Medals

The Shanghai Mint has just produced a new and very interesting set of Panda medals commemorating 70th anniversary of the shelter of more than 18,000 European Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II.  Officially known as the "Designated area for stateless refugees", and also know as the "Shanghai Ghetto" or "Hongkew Ghetto".  The design of the medal represents the hospitality and humanitarianism of the Chinese people who offered the Jews refuge during the war.

The commemorative medals are a very unique and groundbreaking issue from the Shanghai Mint.  These medals have a number of important characteristics that will make them very desirable to collectors.  All are 99.9% pure gold or silver.
  • First Panda medals minted with laser etched serial number
  • First Chinese numismatic piece with a Jewish theme.
  • Extremely low number of pieces produced
  • Designed by famed mint designer Rocky Zhao with his father, legendary engraver Qiming Zhao

Exceptionally Low Mintages

We have not seen such low mintages Pandas since the 1990s.  One example would the the Zurich International Coin Expo 1 oz Panda medal, mintage 550, which sold at the recent Hong Kong Auction for
almost $5700 in PF68.

Here are the official mintages:

2013 Shanghai Memory Mintage
5 oz Gold Panda36
1 oz Gold Panda570
1 oz Silver Panda5773

The 5 oz gold was sold out from distributors via pre-orders before release.  In addition to the usual interest from Chinese collectors, demand from collectors of Jewish historical commemoratives has been very strong.

Laser-Etched Serial Numbers

The Shanghai Memory medals are all sequentially serialized with a number unique to the specific medal.  The 5 oz Gold are numbered #1 - 36, the 1 oz Gold  #1 - 570, and the silver #1 - 5773.  Each coin has a certificate (COA) with the matching number.

Serialization presents some interesting new possibilities for collectors.  As with serialized prints in the art world, early (lower numbered) coins may be considered more desirable, certain numbers may be more or less "auspicious", and matched sets can be created.

In fact, the lower numbered Shanghai Memory medals have been pre-packaged into gold and silver matched sets.  Each of the different coins in the set has the same serial number.  So in order to get the lower numbers, one must buy all of the available sizes.  For example, to get #35, you have to buy the 5 oz gold, 1 oz gold, and the 1 oz silver, all of which will have 35 etched.  Here is the serial number map.

Matched Sets
Serial Numbers
3-coin Premium Set
5 oz Gold
1 oz Gold
1 oz Silver

#01 - 36
Gold & Silver Box Set
1 oz Gold
1 oz Silver
Special 2-coin Box

#37 - 200
Gold & Silver Paired Set
1 oz Gold
1 oz Silver
Separate Boxes

#201 - 570

 1 oz Silver with box #571 - 5773


The medals are all distributed with special packaging and materials.  

All come with:
  • Glass-Top Display Box
  • Torah-like scroll containing historical information.
  • Certificate of Authenticity (COA)

  • The silver medals are not in sealed plastic packs - only capsules.
  • #37 - 200 comes with a special glass-top display box which holds
    • one 1oz Gold
    • one 1 oz Silver
    • one Scroll
    • Single display box that holds both coins and the scroll
    • Two individual COAs
  • #201 - 570 are sold in matched pairs
    • one 1oz Gold
    • one 1oz Silver
    • two separate glass-top display boxes, each with scroll.
    • Two COAs
  • #571 - 5773 are 1oz Silver only
    • Glass-top display box
    • scroll
    • COA

Where is the Panda?

There is a Panda on this medal.  The girl under the umbrella is holding a panda doll!

Therefore this qualifies as a "Panda Coin"

Exquisitely Detailed and Full of Symbolism

The medals were commissioned by Danny Spungen, a major collector of Chinese coins as well as a researcher and collector of materials related to the Holocaust.

The medals are chock-full of symbolism.  A detailed guide can be found here.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Chinese Coin Market - Where Next?

After the big run-up of gold Pandas this last spring, many market participants are now cautiously standing on the sidelines wondering where things are headed next. Here we present some analysis and food for thought.

As I have written in previous posts, there is a tendency toward sector rotation in many markets, coins included. This means that after one sector has a bull run resulting in high prices, buyers will begin to look for undervalued bargains elsewhere.  Often in sectors that have been ignored for a while.

Chinese coin sectors for consideration:  Gold Pandas (BU, Proofs, Medals), Silver Pandas, Lunar Animals, Cultural.

Gold BU Pandas
Having just finished a very heated run, many of the most appreciated coins have cooled.
Many buyers and sellers are waiting to see how prices settle-out.  Sales have slowed, but prices on most Pandas have not plunged. Crazy exceptions like 2002 1/10 are down quite a bit, but good solid 1990's gold pandas seem to be holding steady. There are just not many coins available to be sold, and most are now in strong hands.  These coins seem quiet now, but key dates like 1995 and 1998 will be increasingly scarce and may eventually command very high prices

Gold Panda Proofs
The gold proofs were not part of the Spring 2013 frenzy and are very cheap right now. The scarce 1995 and 1996 1oz proofs are down 50% off their highs of over $20K a few years ago. With mintages ~1000 coins, these look very cheap compared to BU pandas. 1990-1993 proofs are cheap as well. The bimetals are in the same category. A 1986 to 1996 proof set is a nice long term buy.

Panda Medals

The Panda Medals are non-monetary "coins" issued by the China Mint to commemorate major coin shows around the world. Medals were issued regularly from 1987 though the mid 1990s, usually with very low mintages; 500 - 2000 coins for gold, 10K or less for silver. These are not technically coins, since they have no face value, but they are generally considered part of the official Pandas series.

After a long hiatus, minting of the medals resumed in 2012 at the Singapore show, followed by Philadelphia ANA, Berlin, and Long Beach. More are expected to follow. The arrival of new medals has brought new attention to the series overall. After years of neglect, and given the very low mintages, the medals a ripe for a resurgence. The Panda medals appear undervalued and are a key series to watch.

Silver Pandas
Silver pandas are still well below highs of 2011. Key dates are still in demand. I don't expect fireworks in silver until silver bullion resumes its ascent toward $100/oz.

Lunar Animals
The Chinese Lunar Animals are a very beautiful, unique, and well made series proof coins. Each year several
are issued depicting one of the 12 Chinese animal zodiac symbols. They have been made in various interesting shapes and sizes, such as plum flower, fan, rectangular, as well as round. Some are colorized. The designs are intricate, distinctive and very attractive. Chinese collectors tend to buy one each year and then put it away forever...  And very importantly, the mintages are very low.

These coins have had run-ups before, but not for several years. The availability of coins for sale is low, so there is real potential for price spikes.  These coins are very marketable in China, so any promotional programs would have a powerful affect. They are easy to like. We place these high on our list of coins to watch and accumulate.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Spring 2013 Panda Coin Surge

February, March, and April were very exciting months for the Chinese coin market, especially for gold Pandas.  As the price of gold paper contracts on the COMEX and London markets declined from $1700 to $1350 per ounce, Chinese panda collectors went into full buying mode, driving prices of most pre-2011 pandas up substantially.

A major driver of the buying surge was marketing program run by one or more Chinese banks which sold complete 1982-2012 "master sets" of BU gold pandas to high net worth collectors.  A master set is a complete set of all 1/20 oz to 1 oz gold panda coins for each year.  That would be 5 coins (1.9oz) for each year except 1982 which has only 4 coins (no 1/20 oz) - a total of 154 coins, 58.85 ounces, 31 years.  Major China coin dealers were contracted to build many of these sets, setting off a competitive buying spree worldwide, driving up prices of most pandas and sending a few key coins into the stratosphere.

The fierce buying quickly drained dealer inventories as well as ebay.  Soon, certain fractional coins were in short supply, preventing completion of sets. As we noted in past entries of this blog, dealer inventories were already low.  Chinese dealers had to outbid each other to get set completions.

As a result, some new panda scarcities were uncovered.  Surprisingly scarce coins and peak prices in late April:

1995 25Y 1/4 oz:  $5000
1995 50Y 1/2 oz:  $4500
2002 50Y 1/10 oz:  $3000   (that equals $30,000 per ounce!)
2006 50Y 1/10 oz:  $1000

The previously known scarce coins, 1998 all fractionals and 1994 1/2 oz also moved up.  1997 1/2s were tough to find as well.  1995 1 oz were over $5000.  Even "common" dates like 1985, 86, and 88 saw increases.

The master sets were mostly built with pandas that are not certified, with some dealers even buying and cracking-out MS69 coins to fill gaps.  The relative premiums on MS69 shrank as the prices for sealed and unsealed pandas increased.  Also, varieties and mints were completely ignored for master sets, so Large Date and Small Date differentials reduced as well.

The marketing programs ended in early May, so the demand for these coins has subsided and extreme prices have retreated.  However, we have learned of more Panda rarities.  The master sets were sold to long-term buy-and-hold collectors for wealth preservation, so it is unlikely many of these coins will re-appear on the market any time soon.   It seems very likely that the coins above will be increasingly expensive and difficult to find.

Dealer stocks of almost all pre-2011 Pandas are still very thin.  The summer doldrums will be a time to slowly re-stock, but North American supplies are now very depleted.  The next buying binge, whenever that occurs, should send some Pandas to new and extreme heights.  This most recent bull-run happened when gold was declining and there was almost no participation from US and European collectors.  What will happen when gold starts to go up again and the west gets on the gold bandwagon?

Summer is traditionally the quite time in the coin business...  and an excellent time to be a buyer.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gold Drops, but Gold Panda Prices Go Up

The machinations of the paper gold traders on Wall Street may have pushed gold down toward $1550 per ounce, but Chinese buyers see that and conclude GOLD IS ON SALE!  买买买!Buy, Buy, Buy!

A post Chinese New Year buying rush into gold pandas is under way.  Increased promotion of Panda coins in particular is increasing awareness in China.  Thin dealer inventories mean that prices will go up on many coins.

The low gold price is prompting big increases in all physical gold sales across the board.  You local coin dealer is probably very busy.  This is very bullish.