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Over the past several months, the United States Mint has announced a series of actions and policy changes that make it more difficult for the average individual to buy gold. There have always been plausible or semi-plausible explanations, but the consequence of each action has been to limit or discourage gold ownership.

The recent actions of the United States Mint in relation to gold are presented below. I have also included the US Mint’s explanation for each situation, taken from official memorandums or press releases.

August 2008: The US Mint suspends sales of Gold Eagle bullion coins. Sales resume two weeks later on a rationed basis.

On August 14, 2008, the US Mint announced that they were suspending sales of American Gold Eagle bullion coins. The suspension was in place until August 25, 2008, when sales resumed under an allocation program. The program divides available gold coins into two pools. The first pool is divided equally among all authorized bullion purchasers. The second pool is allocated based on past sales performance.

When gold coin rationing (termed “allocation”) was introduced, it was presented as a temporary measure. More than four months later, gold coin rationing continues. There has been no indication when authorized bullion purchasers will be able to order unrestricted quantities of gold bullion coins.

US Mint explanation:

The unprecedented demand for American Eagle gold one-ounce bullion coins necessitates our allocating these coins among the authorized purchasers on a weekly basis until we are able to meet demand.

September 2008: The US Mint suspends sales of Gold Buffalo bullion coins. Sales resume more than one month later, but only to clear remaining inventory.

On September 25, 2008, the US Mint announced the sales suspension of 24 karat American Gold Buffalo bullion coins. Sales did not resume until November 2, 2008 when the US Mint was able to offer only its remaining limited inventory on an allocated basis.

US Mint explanation:

Demand has exceeded supply for American Buffalo 24-Karat Gold One-Ounce Bullion Coins, and our inventories have been depleted. We are, therefore, temporarily suspending sales of these coins.

October 6, 2008: The US Mint announces that production will be halted for all but one gold bullion coin option.

Production was immediately halted for one-half ounce and one-quarter ounce American Gold Eagle bullion coins. Production of one tenth-ounce gold bullion coins was halted following depletion of the remaining blank supplies. Production of one ounce Gold Buffalo bullion coins was also halted following depletion of the remaining blank supplies.

These coins represent the US Mint’s only fractional gold bullion coin offerings and the US Mint’s only 24 karat gold bullion offering. The production halt seemed to be a temporary measure that would impact 2008 dated coins. The production halt has continued into 2009. There has been no indication when production will resume.

US Mint explanation:

The United States Mint has worked diligently to attempt to meet demand, however, blank supplies are very limited and it is necessary for the United States Mint to focus remaining bullion production primarily on American Eagle Gold One Ounce and Silver One Ounce Coins.

November 10, 2008: The US Mint announces the discontinuation of numerous gold and platinum numismatic products.

The discontinuation of 22 different gold and platinum numismatic products was included as a broader measure to refocus the US Mint’s line of products for coin collectors. Discontinued gold coin products included fractional uncirculated Gold Buffalo coins, one ounce uncirculated Gold Buffalo coins, fractional proof Gold Buffalo coins, and fractional uncirculated Gold Eagle coins.

Although the US Mint has constantly referred to the “unprecedented demand” for gold, they deemed their gold numismatic products to be “unpopular.” Following the discontinuation announcement, sales of the 2008-dated versions of the discontinued coins surged and all numismatic Gold Buffalo and platinum coin offerings sold out in less than a month.

US Mint explanation:

We are responding to the collector community which has spoken loudly and clearly. Customers have told us there are just too many products. We agree, and it’s time the United States Mint trims down and concentrates on the products our customers love most.

November 24, 2008: The US Mint announces the delayed release of all but one 2009 gold bullion coin option.

This delayed release served to prolong the previously announced production halts for fractional gold bullion coins and the 24 karat Gold Buffalo bullion coins. As noted previously, the production halt continues with no indication of when it might end.

The single 2009 gold bullion offering from the US Mint continues to be subject to rationing. As noted previously, there has been no indication of when the rationing will end.

US Mint statement:

The quantities of blanks that we have been able to acquire from our suppliers continue to be very limited, while demand for bullion coins remains high. As a result, it is necessary for the United States Mint to delay the launch of other bullion coins until later in 2009. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you informed as additional information becomes available.

January 6, 2009: The US Mint establishes a new pricing policy for gold and platinum numismatic products.

The new US Mint pricing policy adjusts the prices for gold and platinum numismatic products as often as weekly based on the average London AM Fix gold price. The prices for coins are based on a published table which seems to impute higher premiums than the old pricing system.

In the past, prices were established at the start of sales and remained fixed unless there was a significant move in the price of the underlying precious metal. At times gold numismatic products could be purchased for premiums as low as 10%. Under the new policy, prices are adjusted weekly to preserve permanently high premiums. Current premiums run 30% or more depending on the product.

US Mint explanation:

Transparency, agility, and customer service are the catalysts for our new pricing method. The volatile precious metals market prompted our customers to suggest that we re-vamp our process, and we listened.

Conclusion?

The series of incremental changes outlined above has resulted in the following situation:

  • Production was halted for all of the US Mint’s fractional gold bullion and 24 karat gold bullion offerings several months ago. There has been no indication when production might resume.
  • The only 2009 gold bullion coin available from the US Mint is the one ounce American Gold Eagle. Sales of this single bullion coin offering remain subject to rationing.
  • The US Mint’s gold numismatic offerings for 2009 have been significantly reduced from the prior year. The remaining product offerings will be priced at prohibitively high premiums under a newly established pricing policy.

Whether or not it was the US Mint’s intention, every significant action they have taken since August has either limited gold availability, eliminated gold product options, or increased the cost of acquiring gold. Has it all just been a consequence of surging global demand for gold, supply chain mismanagement, and bad timing for policy decisions? Or is there something else going on here?

Thank you to APMEX for confirming the status of the US Mint’s 2009 gold bullion coins for this post.

Source: U.S. Mint Actions Discourage Gold Ownership