Soured on Precious Metals

By Josh Originally drafted July 11, 2016. Published March 10, 2018.

In an attempt to become a diversified investor, I began purchasing precious metals in mid-2012. Earlier, in 2011, Silver had touched $50 to match the all-time high experienced in the 1980s, and Gold had broken out to new highs above $1900. By the time I started investing, Silver had retreated 30% to around $35/ounce, and I was not looking to get into Gold near its all-time highs.

So began a series of novice investor mistakes, especially in the realm of precious metals investing. The first place I started was eBay, since it is so familiar to most of us and easy to bid on an auction or click “buy it now” and have your order on its way to your door. I began buying premium silver products and graded silver coins, both with massive premiums above the “spot” price. Spot price is basically like a stock’s price, there is a Bid and an Ask price at any given point in time. As silver continued to slide, from around $35 when I started buying, all the way down into the $13.xx range in early 2016, I chased the price down, down, down by buying more, more, more silver.

I also eventually got into the Gold game by buying expensive fractional gold rounds and coins 1/10 or ¼ of an ounce at a time. Fractional pieces come with their own premiums attached, because it is expensive to mint such small coins/rounds when calculated on a per-ounce basis. For example, it takes 1000% more time, dies, equipment to pump out 100 ounces of 1/10th ounce fractional gold pieces as it does 100 one-ounce gold coins. Due to the extra expense of the premiums and the falling gold price for the past 3 years, I found myself down about 25% on my gold purchases. In June 2016 I sold all of my gold coins and rounds, as I had decided to close out my investment in Gold.

But back to Silver, I have occasionally made some money in Silver, even with the falling spot price. Usually around payday, I would stop in at local antique shops, coin shops and jewelry stores to see what silver coins they had for sale. I once bought a Spanish Ocho Reale (pirates called these “Pieces of 8”) for $20 and sold it on eBay for $60. I also paid $20 for a 20 gram silver coin from the Monnaie de Paris and sold it to a buyer in China for $64. But for the most part, I lost money each and every time I bought silver because the spot price continued its helter-skelter decline from $50 in 2011 to less than $14 at one point in 2016. I was able to accumulate over 800 ounces of silver by making small irregular purchases over the course of about 4 years, but my silver only held about 2/3 of the value of what I had paid, even with the “dollar-cost averaging” that I thought I was employing.

Luckily for me, silver prices bounced a bit, crossing $20 in 2016 before retreating back into the $16-17 range for quite a while now. In 2016 I sold off some pieces that I had bought at lower prices, and then in 2017 I sold off approximately 60% of my silver to put that money to better use in my taxable Vanguard brokerage account. I will no longer be blindly purchasing precious metals for investment’s sake.

So here’s my case against holding physical precious metals:

  • Cost of storage (bank safety deposit box, private facility storage, or a safe inside your home)
  • Unlike many other investments, there are no dividends
  • Not very liquid, especially for premium pieces. You might be able to unload at spot price or a little below, but you won’t get true market value without selling each piece individually on a site like eBay, and then you will pay listing fees and PayPal fees to the tune of around 13%
  • Very volatile, especially silver. Sometimes can swing in price by 3-4x the amount that is typical in the broad market index funds. This amount now seems tame, in comparison to cryptocurrencies and their wild roller-coaster price changes.

Despite all of this, I am still thankful for my journey into silver coins, bars and rounds. I was able to satisfy my “spending” urge, while buying something that actually retained some/most of its value. Instead of buying a new video game or another piece of electronics equipment that was out of date within 6 months, I bought items that have been appreciated for sometimes more than 100 years. This helped me get into the habit of saving instead of spending, although I really wish I had put this money into a Roth IRA back in those years because I would have more than doubled my money instead of taking the loss that I have experienced.

I also spent a lot of time in those years cataloguing my purchases into spreadsheets as well as a YouTube channel. If you’re extremely bored or want to see what I was so obsessed about, check out my old Jover Silver channel where I still have 20 videos posted. Look at the shiny goodness! No wonder I couldn’t resist.

2 thoughts on “Soured on Precious Metals”

    1. Yes, but they’re the ones I’d probably lose the most money by selling. They carry heavy premiums to buy them, or sell at a discount to the “spot price” because of their ubiquity. For example, all dimes and quarters from before 1964 were made of 90% silver; I bought them for their silver composition value, but probably could not sell them to anyone unless I gave a discount. A dealer would expect to pay quite a bit less than their spot value so they could sell them at spot for a profit. There’s always the eBay route, but then I’d lose ~13% in selling/listing fees. So for now I am just sitting on them.


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