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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stamp Investment Tips: Latakia

Latakia is not a Jewish potato pancake, but rather a territory of northeastern Syria formerly under Turkish domination, which became a part of the Syrian Mandate to France under the Versailles Treaty. Under the French Mandate, the Alawites, a prominent Shi'ite religious group attempted to create an independent state, and the territory of "Alaouites" was created in 1925, and renamed "Latakia" in 1930. It was later incorporated into the nation of Syria.

Between 1931 and 1933, the French issued 35 stamps for Latakia, overprinting "Lattaquie" on the stamps that they had issued for Syria. The three sets issued during the period, a regular issue (Scott #1-22), airmails (Scott #C1-11), and Postage Dues (Scott #J1-2) are all worthwhile investments, having a dual market among collectors of French Colonies and Syria. Only 5,868 of the airmail set were issued, and the printing quantity of the regular issue was probably similar, although it was not recorded. Latakia's key stamp, the 50 centime Ochre Airmail with inverted overprint (Scott #C1a; Scott '10 Catalog value of $ 1,200.00 for unused) could be at least as rare as an Inverted Jenny, and should be purchased conditional on obtaining expertization.

Currently, stamps of Latakia are sought mainly by French Colonies collectors, and I feel that they are worth targeting on that basis alone. In the long-term, the stamps could appeal to Alawites, of whom there are currently about 4 million, and demand might also be enhanced if Syria becomes more democratic and normalizes its relations with Israel and the West. GDP growth for this nation of 22 million people has averaged 3.5% over the last five years, and has been steadily increasing, but the country is handicapped by a corruptly managed command economy and lack of access to international capital markets. Furthermore, a report by Strategic Foresight Group, a think tank in Asia, has calculated the opportunity cost of conflict for the Middle East from 1991-2010 at a whopping $12 trillion (12,000,000,000). Syria’s share in this was over $150 billion. In other words had there been peace since 1991, every Syrian citizen would be earning $2,896 instead of the $1,664 he or she will earn in 2010. The government also spends almost 7% of their GDP on the military, compared to the 2% that they spend on health care. I believe that reform is inevitable but may be very slow, as Syrians gradually become fed up with the wastefulness, corruption, fanaticism, and militarism of their leaders.

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