June 20, 2024

Physical Silver Shortage Worsens Due To Mint Rationing and Surging Investment Demand

The inability of the US Mint to meet public demand for gold and silver bullion products was discussed at a recent House Financial Services Subcommittee hearing.  Testimony by industry experts revealed that the US Mint was losing an estimated one-third of potential bullion sales because they cannot meet demand.

For the past several weeks the US Mint sales figures for Silver Eagle bullion coins have been essentially flat. The US Mint sells its bullion products in bulk to authorized purchasers (AP’s).  The AP’s resell the bullion coins to dealers who then sell the products to the public.  The US Mint has been rationing the 2011 Silver Eagle bullion coins to AP’s, leaving one to conclude that the flat sales of Silver Eagles have been the result of Mint production constraints or supply shortages, rather than flat or reduced market demand.

On past occasions, the US Mint has cited the lack of adequate supplies of silver planchets as the cause for the continuing rationing of silver bullion coin sales. Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Mint admitted that they were having significant problems in sourcing silver since huge demand was outpacing silver supply.

Combine rationing and surging demand and the obvious result is a severe shortage of  physical gold and silver bullion products.  Confirming this situation, American Precious Metals Exchange (APMEX), announced yesterday that they were seeking to purchase US Mint bullion products from their customers in order to meet “recent incredible demand for gold and silver bullion products”.

APMEX, one of the country’s largest precious metals dealers, offered to purchase American Gold Eagles and American Silver Eagles at generous premiums over spot prices in order to secure inventory.  Despite the increase in the price of gold and silver, public demand obviously remains incredibly strong.

The American public has been provided with plenty of evidence that out of control deficit spending and money printing policies by the Federal Reserve are destroying the value of the paper dollar and they are acting accordingly (see Why There Is No Upside Limit To Gold and Silver Prices).  A loss of confidence in paper money is fueling the rise in gold and silver prices as people seek to protect their wealth.  Any pullbacks in precious metal prices should be viewed as another major buying opportunity.

US Mint Gold Bullion Sales Rise with Gold Buffalo Launch

The number of ounces worth of gold bullion coins sold by the United States Mint rose in the latest week, bolstered by the launch of the 2011 Gold Buffalo coins. Silver bullion sales showed a slight increase, as the year to date total for American Silver Eagles moved above 11 million.

The United States Mint sells bullion products through a network of authorized purchasers. This small group of primary distributors may buy the coins directly in bulk quantities, based on the market price of the metals plus a mark up. The coins are then resold to other dealers and the public for broader distribution.

At the current time, the available products include one ounce Silver Eagles; one ounce, half ounce, quarter ounce, and tenth ounce Gold Eagles, and one ounce Gold Buffaloes. The 5 ounce America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins are expected to be released in late April. The status of the Platinum Eagle coins remains uncertain.

US Mint Bullion Coin Program Sales 3/16/2011 (ounces)

Prior Week Month to Date Year to Date
American Silver Eagle 748,500 1,417,000 11,079,000
American Gold Eagle 24,000 42,500 268,500
America the Beautiful Silver 0 0 0
American Platinum Eagle 0 0 0
American Gold Buffalo 21,500 0 21,500

Total ounces of gold sold for the week ending March 16, 2011 was 45,500. This consisted of 24,000 ounces of American Gold Eagles and 21,500 ounces of the newly released 2011 Gold Buffalo coins. The latter are only available in one ounce size and are struck in 24 karat gold.

In the past week, the US Mint recorded sales of 748,500 ounces of American Silver Eagles. This is up from the sales of 668,500 reported for the previous period. Sales levels for silver bullion continue to be restrained as the US Mint imposes its allocation program, which rations the available supply amongst the authorized purchasers.

Silver Eagle Sales Slower as US Mint Rations Supplies

Sales of the United States Mint’s American Silver Eagle bullion coins were slower in the latest week. However, the slow down seems to be the result of the allocation program currently in place, as opposed to a reduction in demand. Sales for Gold Eagle bullion coins dropped to the lowest weekly total for the year to date.

For the weekly period ending March 9, the US Mint recorded sales of 668,500 of the one ounce Silver Eagles. This compares to 1,509,000 coins sold in the previous week.

Since the start of sales for the 2011-dated coins, the US Mint has carried out sales under their standard allocation program. Rather than accepting unrestricted orders, available supplies of silver bullion coins are rationed amongst the authorized purchasers. As such, sales figures reflect the number of coins that the US Mint is able to produce and make available, as opposed to the level of demand from the market.

There has been anecdotal evidence from bullion dealers indicating demand in excess of the available supplies. This reduced availability has caused premium levels for Silver Eagles to expand at the retail level.

Other world mints have indicated that they have been encountering problems obtaining the silver needed to produce coins and other bullion products. The US Mint has not provided any specific explanations.

US Mint Bullion Coin Program Sales 3/9/2011 (ounces)

Prior Week Month to Date Year to Date
American Silver Eagle 668,500 668,500 10,330,500
American Gold Eagle 12,500 18,500 232,000
America the Beautiful Silver 0 0 0
American Platinum Eagle 0 0 0
American Gold Buffalo 0 0 0

Sales of the bullion Gold Eagles were only 12,500 in the latest week compared to a previous weekly total of 37,000 coins. The demand for physical gold has not been as intense as the demand for silver. Since the start of sales for the 2011-dated coins on January 3, 2011, the US Mint has not used the allocation program.

American Gold and Silver Eagle Sales Slower

After generating some mainstream media attention for the record pace of sales, United States Mint bullion coins had a quiet week. According to figures provided by the Mint, only 136,000 ounces of American Silver Eagles and 7,500 ounces of American Gold Eagles were sold in the past week.

Some have noted the divergence in the sales of bullion coins, which are in record territory for the month, and exchange traded fund (ETF) holdings, which continue to decline. Both have an impact on demand for silver, although the nature the of the buyers for each type of investment are different.

Those purchasing ETF’s are more likely to be professionals or other investors trying to participate in short terms price gains. Since bullion coins are comparatively more difficult to buy and sell and carry larger spreads, these buyers are more likely to be making longer term investments.

US Mint Mint Bullion Coin Program Sales 1/26/2011 (ounces)

Prior Week Year to Date
American Silver Eagle 136,000 4,724,000
American Gold Eagle 7,500 83,000
American Platinum Eagle 0 0
American Gold Buffalo 0 0

The US Mint has now sold 4,724,000 of the one ounce Silver Eagles for the year to date. This includes a remaining quantity of 2010-dated coins, as well as the newly released 2011 Silver Eagles. This is the highest monthly sales total in the history of the program.

American Gold Eagle sales total 83,000 for the year to date. This includes sales of 80,500 one ounce coins, 1,000 one-half ounce coins, 2,000 one-quarter ounce coins, and 15,000 one-tenth ounce coins. The fractional weight coins represent 2010 Gold Eagles, while the one ounce coins included 2010 and 2011-dated coins.

United States Mint Bullion Program Net Margin Remains at 1.9%

Amidst increased demand for physical gold and silver investment products, the United States Mint achieved record revenue from the sale of bullion coins during their 2010 fiscal year. Annual sales totaled $2.86 billion, which yielded net income of $55.2 million for the segment.

The US Mint produces gold, silver, and platinum bullion coins which are distributed through a network of authorized purchasers. The various programs were authorized by Congress, and the weight, content, and purity of each bullion coin is guaranteed by the U.S. government.

During the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, the US Mint issued one ounce American Silver Eagles; one ounce, half ounce, quarter ounce, and tenth ounce American Gold Eagles; and one ounce American Gold Buffalo coins. The American Platinum Eagle, which is typically produced in four different bullion weights, was not produced or issued during the year.

Because the purpose of the US Mint’s bullion coin programs is to provide investors with a convenient and cost effective method for investing in precious metals, the programs are managed to a nominal net margin. The bullion coins are sold to authorized purchasers based on the current market price of the metal plus a fixed or percentage mark up to cover minting, distribution, and marketing costs, as well as a net margin targeted at or below 2%. For the past three years, the net margin has remained steady at 1.9%.

The US Mint utilizes a hedging program to avoid the risk related to fluctuations in silver costs. Silver is purchased in large quantities on the open market and then an interest in that silver is sold to a trading partner. The US Mint maintains physical custody and title to the silver. As finished silver bullion coins are sold to authorized purchasers, the trading partner’s interest is repurchased. Transaction fees related to the hedging program were $170,000 for the 2010 fiscal year.