July 6, 2022

How Much Gold and Silver Will the Treasury Secretary Determine is Sufficient to Meet Public Demand?

A bill, which seeks to provide greater Congressional oversight for circulating coin compositions, may have implications for the quantity of United States Mint gold and silver bullion coins that are available to precious metals investors.

The bill H.R. 6162 Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010 primarily establishes rules for the Secretary of the Treasury to provide biennial reports to specified committees on the costs related to circulating coins, and make recommendations for new metallic materials or procedures. A final section of the bill deals with “meeting the demand for gold and silver numismatic items”, although the implications seem to extend to bullion coins.

Following the cancellation of the 2009 Proof Silver Eagles, the United States Mint sought greater flexibility to produce numismatic versions of the coin. The Director of the United States Mint requested such authority be granted to the Secretary of the Treasury at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology on July 20, 2010. The chairman of the subcommittee Melvin Watt was the one who introduced the bill H.R. 6162.

The following is Sec. 4 of the bill:

Subsections (e) and (i) of section 5112 of title 31, United States Code are each amended by striking ‘quantities’ and inserting ‘qualities and quantities that the Secretary determines are’.

Here’s how the law authorizing American Silver Eagles currently reads (emphasis added):

(e) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary shall mint and issue, in quantities sufficient to meet public demand, coins which— (1) are 40.6 millimeters in diameter and weigh 31.103 grams; (2) contain .999 fine silver; (3) have a design— (A) symbolic of Liberty on the obverse side; and (B) of an eagle on the reverse side…

And here’s now the law would read if the bill H.R. 6162 is enacted (emphasis added):

(e) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary shall mint and issue, in quantities and qualities that the Secretary determines are sufficient to meet public demand, coins which— (1) are 40.6 millimeters in diameter and weigh 31.103 grams; (2) contain .999 fine silver; (3) have a design— (A) symbolic of Liberty on the obverse side; and (B) of an eagle on the reverse side…

A similar change occurs for subsection (i), which deals with American Gold Eagles.

The inclusion of the word “qualities” was necessary to accomplish the presumed goal of the legislation to allow the issuance of numismatic versions of the coins, but what about the added phrase “that the Secretary determines are sufficient”?

Is the amount of gold and silver bullion coins that the Secretary determines are sufficient to meet public demand different that than amount which will actually meet public demand?

Even under the strict existing standard, there have been extended periods of time when full public demand was clearly not being met. The sale of Gold and Silver Eagle bullion coins have been completely suspended for brief periods, and rationed for considerably longer periods. Most recently, Gold Eagles were subject to rationing from December 2009 until March 2010, and Silver Eagles were rationed from December 2009 until September 2010.

What will happen if the standard becomes less strict and more indefinite?

US Mint Bullion Programs at the Treasury Secretary’s Discretion

Besides the American Gold and Silver Eagles, no other US Mint bullion programs carry the requirement to be produced in quantities sufficient to meet public demand. The language varies, but each program is effectively left to the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury.

The 24 karat American Gold Buffalo coins, carry the requirements, “Not later than 6 months after the date of enactment of the Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, the Secretary shall commence striking and issuing for sale such number of $50 gold bullion and proof coins as the Secretary may determine to be appropriate, in such quantities, as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe.”

The subsection dealing with American Platinum Eagles reads: “The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.”

And, the recently issued 5 ounce America the Beautiful Silver bullion coins: “The Secretary shall strike and make available for sale such number of bullion coins as the Secretary determines to be appropriate that are exact duplicates of the quarter dollars issued under subsection (t)”

Granted that there is no public demand requirement, but how is the Treasury Secretary doing with these other gold and silver bullion programs?

Inventories of the American Gold Buffalo bullion coins were completely depleted by the end of September 2010. At that point, the US Mint indicated that no further inventory of 2010-dated bullion coins would be made available.

The American Platinum Eagle has not been available in bullion format for more than two years. After final inventories were exhausted in late 2008, the US Mint indicated that the 2009 release would be delayed. The 2009-dated bullion coins were eventually canceled. The US Mint has not provided any information on 2010-dated bullion coins, and none have been issued to date.

The America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins went on sale to authorized purchasers today. The supply was so limited that the US Mint urged primary distributors to keep prices reasonable. Market forces took precedence and the bullion coins have been selling for double the silver value, or more.

Conclusion

So what is the difference between “quantities sufficient to meet public demand” and “quantities that the Secretary determines are sufficient to meet public demand”?

In practice, we shall see if this represents a different standard, but at this point the change in wording makes me uncomfortable.  I want the supply of gold and silver bullion coins to be determined by demand in the marketplace, not determined by unspecified criteria established by the Secretary of the Treasury.

As the bill has already been passed in the House and Senate, and only requires the President’s signature to become law, it seems too late to do anything other than brace for the possible repercussions.