Friday, July 24, 2020

Coin Collecting in the time of Coronavirus

Most collectors I know enjoy talking about "The Good Old Days", but they rarely mean "Last Year" when they say it! The coin hobby is currently staggering through the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, along with most of the rest of the economy. People look back wistfully to those relatively care-free days, when you didn't need a mask to buy a cup of coffee, and you could get on an airliner without much thought of what was lurking on the exposed surfaces or in the air.
Large gatherings mostly ended in the U.S. by April 2020. This has included all the coin shows & coin conventions that I traditionally attend. I honestly miss all these events. For me, coin shows have become as much a chance to catch up with old friends and share gossip about great coins as they were about finding more coins. The sense of isolation is almost palpable. My coin club (EAC) first postponed this year's convention from May to Aug., and then finally relented and canceled the 2020 convention altogether. It was a wise and well-considered decision by the EAC board, but still a fiscal and emotional blow to club members. Fortunately, the annual EAC auction has been salvaged, with the auctioneers engineering an on-line real-time sale for members to participate in. This auction will provide EAC members with a welcome chance to participate in the hobby and (hopefully) add some useful new items to their collections. It will also provide EAC with the bulk of its revenue for this year (by virtue of the buyer's premiums on each lot).
Coin collecting has been impacted by Coronavirus in many ways. The loss of conventions is just one change that collectors had to cope with. For a number of weeks, during lockdowns in most of the nation, it was impossible to visit local coin shops. This was without doubt a hardship to the shop owners, the customers who regularly walked in to look at coins or just talk about them, and people with large coin accumulations to sell. Most shops have re-opened now, and their operations are largely the same (with some new restrictions). Coin auctions have largely retreated from in-person events to on-line only events. Other traditional bidding mechanisms (like mail-bid, FAX, and phone bids) also remain intact. The large on-line coin marketplaces (like ebay) did not require major changes to continue operating, and their platforms benefited from the large number of collectors isolated at home, with no other outlet for their collecting passion.
Prices for coins, at least the kind of coins that I look at, have not been negatively impacted by the virus. This might at first seem counter-intuitive, since a lot of economic damage was caused by the shutdowns, and resulting slowdown in the economy. One might reasonably have expected a recession to depress the price of most collectibles. However, it is important to note that the U.S. Federal Reserve responded quickly to the pandemic with a huge ($3+ Trillion) stimulus. This stimulus warped the economic models, resulting in some uncertainty in the prices of individual commodities (including coins). The anticipation of inflation that accompanied the Fed's stimulus measures has caused a spike in the prices of precious metals (Gold, Silver, etc.). Traditionally, coin prices have followed bullion prices when they rise. In a general sense, that is what is occurring now. The fluctuation in bullion prices leads to more attention from collectors & speculators, and this in-turn results in higher bids for coins of most types.
Where are we headed? That is unclear at this time. People are still adjusting to "the new normal". Work, shopping, vacations, and many other activities have required adjustment in the age of the virus. The development of an effective vaccine in a timely manner (eg. by the end of this year) could result in a big economic rebound, and resumption of life as we previously knew it. However, even under that rosy scenario, all the extra money that was injected by the Fed. will not be absorbed quickly. This implies that a bull market for coins could continue for awhile. Barring the rapid development and deployment of a vaccine, the pandemic existence that has prevailed since April is likely to continue. People are likely to re-prioritize what they do with their leisure time and their leisure dollars. It should be quite interesting. The historians and financial pundits will be busy for a long time trying to analyze this one!

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