Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2011 Sacagawea Dollar Coins Are Now Available

The new 2011 Sacagawea dollar with a reverse celebrating the Wampanoag Treaty of 1621 is now available from the U.S. Mint's Direct Ship Program. I ordered a box of the new dollar rolls this morning and after I take out what I want for my collection, I will begin spending the rest.

Spending Sacagawea dollars has become much easier in recent months. I have commented in the past about how I spend many of these at the self-checkouts at grocery and other stores. It's much quicker to insert the coins into a slot than it is trying to get the machine to accept a well-worn $1 bill. Now my grocery store has made it even quicker and easier to use dollar coins than it is to use a credit or debit card.

New self-checkout machines installed at my grocery store have a tray instead of the traditional coin slot. You just take a handful of dollar or other coins and dump them into the tray. The coins funnel down into the machine. It's similar to coin counting machines that tellers use at your local bank. It used to take me months to spend a $250 box of Sacagawea dollars, but now with these new self-checkouts I can go through a box of dollars in just a few weeks.

An added benefit of these new self-checkouts is that my son loves dumping the coins into the tray and watching them "go down the drain." Any unruly behavior at the store is quickly checked by a threat of not letting him put the coins into the tray when we checkout. What more could any parent want out of the new Sacagawea and Presidential dollars?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Gold Was Not Always So Golden, Have We Really Forgotten?

Each time I turn on CNBC, it doesn't take long before I hear some market expert telling me to "buy gold now," or "it's not too late to start buying gold." They talk about how gold is a physical asset that will always be there and how little the downside risk is to owning it. Hmm, didn't someone once tell me this about home ownership?

If I haven't already bought into the gold boom, should I really start now?

I'm reminded of the equities expert who came on CNBC back in the Fall of 2007. The Dow had pulled back to 13,000 after reaching 14,000 a month earlier. He was asked whether we would see 12,000 again before we saw 14,000. On national television he adamantly said we would see 14,000 and not 12,000.

I have to laugh when I think what if the question had been worded 6,600 again before 14,000. His answer would still have been wrong. So much for experts.

As a collector of gold coins, I'll admit the past 10 years have been a good one, but what about the 20 years prior to that? If you've owned gold for over 30 years, it's hard to forget that gold was not always so golden.

Personally, I'm worried that it's starting to feel like deja vu and I've lived through this before. In 1980 we were looking at never ending inflation, spiking oil prices, mid-east turmoil (remember the overthrow of the Shah and the resulting Iran hostage crisis?), and the "evil empire" was still threatening our very existence with nuclear annihilation.

Gold seemed like a no brainer back then too as it soared above $800 an ounce.

But if you bought gold on January 21, 1980 (at the peak of $850 an ounce) and held it for exactly 20 years, then sold it on January 21, 2000 (at the day's close of $287.75) you would have lost over 66% of your initial investment. Heck if you had held it exactly 1 year, you still would have lost over 30%.

Today, with a declining dollar, the threat of inflation, and mid-east turmoil, gold seems like a no brainer. But it also feels a lot like 1980 all over again.

What will happen when the Fed finally starts to raise interest rates and they stop the quantitative easing? What happens if the dollar begins to firm up? What happens if the U.S. and other countries start selling off gold reserves to help service rising debt? Some in the U.S. have already begun calling for the government to raid the piggy bank at Fort Knox.

So have we really forgotten that gold has its risks too? Isn't it possible that the next 20 years could look more like 1980 to 2000 when gold didn't seem like such a smart move?

I'm really starting to get this feeling of deja vu.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

U.S. Mint Website Suffers Apparent Glitch

This is an update to my earlier post about the Mint's website no longer having any coins available in the Direct Ship program. It appeared that this problem was not limited to the Direct Ship program but seemed to include all the products on their website. So there obviously was a problem of some sort but it now appears to have been resolved.