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Thursday, March 10, 2011

General Commentary: the European Sovereign Debt Crisis- Part 1: Greece

The massive accounting and securities fraud which is currently being referred to as the "global financial crisis" cold-cocked Europe's financial institutions and equities markets from 2008 to 2010. Iceland, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Great Britain were among the hardest hit. Violent riots erupted in Greece, largely as a response to austerity programs imposed on the general public by the government. In Europe, as in the United States, some economic populism has come to the fore as an expression of outrage at the governmental bailouts of the corporate oligarchy which caused the mess in the first place. Nevertheless, the public is still generally complacent, the financial reforms put into place have been largely cosmetic and ineffectual, and as yet, there is no bull market for guillotines.

Generally speaking, the crisis has put many stamps of Europe on sale, including a number of better items which probably should not be. In all likelihood, these countries will recover and return to prosperity, but in the meantime, there are many desirable stamps from these countries which once sold for 40%-80% of catalogue value, and which now are selling in the 15%-35% range. To some extent, the situation resembles a minor "ground floor opportunity," though not as extreme as one sometimes finds in the developing world. The economic chaos is sadly forcing some collectors to haphazardly dump their collections on the market, creating an glut of tasty morsels for vultures with a long view.

As noted in my 2009 "ground floor" article, the most conservative approach to such an unstable and unpredictable situation is to focus on scarce items which will tend to hold up no matter what happens, and on popular topicals which have worldwide appeal. By way of illustration, I've selected three sets from Greece ranging in cost from cheap to expensive. I may recommend items from some of the other affected nations in future articles.

The cheapest of the three is the 1958 Greek Ships set. 115,999 were issued, and Scott '11 values it at $13.95 for unused. It should do well as an attractive Transportation topical regardless of what happens to the Greek economy. Note that the Michel catalogue notes a scarce double-printed black error of the 3.50 Drachma value (Michel #672DD).

Greece's third airmail set of 1933 (Scott #C8-14) tastefully combines symbols of flight with Classical Greek imagery. 30,000 sets were issued and it is moderately priced by Scott '11 at $67.- ($200.- for NH) . The set appeals to aviation collectors, as well as those interested in Greek Mythology.

The most expensive set which I am recommending is the 1940 Greek Youth Organization set (Scott #427-36, C38-47). This compound set has always been one of the toughest issues of modern Greek philately. Only 8,630 sets were issued, and Scott '11 values the unused set at $475.55 ($1,000.- for NH) . The airmails within the compound set add immense topical appeal to topicalists who seek stamps thematically related to Art/Architecture, Religion, or Greek Mythology, as they feature ancient Greek temples and early churches and monasteries. If you locate this set, it is likely to be at a stamp auction, and it is possible that only a slight"financial crisis discount" will kick in when you attempt to bid for it, but one may always hope for the best.


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