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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Haiti 1942 Our Lady of Perpetual Help Souvenir Sheets (Scott #C19-21/C21Note)

In 1942, Haiti issued a set of souvenir sheets honoring Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a title given to the Virgin Mary as portrayed on a famous Byzantine icon. The set was issued in both perforated and imperforate form (Scott #C19-21, C19a-21a). 10,000 of the perf. and 2,000 imperf. sets were issued, and Scott '11 prices them unused at $15.00 and $ 75.-, respectively.

When it comes to philatelic investing, Haiti represents a ground floor opportunity. While some of its earlier stamps have attracted interest among specialists in the U.S. and Europe, many of its scarce modern sets have been neglected. Generally, I recommend that investors focus on either key stamps or popular topical issues when speculating on stamps of desperately poor countries. The "Our Lady" set qualifies as both a Religion and an Art topical, and both areas have growing worldwide appeal. As speculations go, it's about as low-risk as they come. A nation of about 9 million people, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. In 2009, it had a nominal GDP of about $7 billion , with a GDP per capita of $790 - slightly over $2 per person per day. Half of all Haitians are illiterate, and 66% work in the agricultural sector, mainly as small-scale subsistence farmers. The richest 1% of the population owns about 50% of the wealth, and the country is rated among the most corrupt in the world. Not surprisingly, annual GDP growth has been low, averaging about 1.8% over the last 5 years. The devastating 2010 Earthquake resulted in increased international attention and aid, offering the hope that perhaps things can't get much worse.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist" , featuring buy prices for stamps which I wish to purchase, including this Haitian set. Viewing buy lists every once in a while is an excellent way to remain informed concerning the vagaries of the stamp market.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Austria 1933 Ski Federation (Scott #B106-09)

In 1933, Austria issued a set of four semi-postals celebrating the meeting of the International Ski Federation (Scott #B106-09). 50,000 were issued, and Scott '11 prices the unused set at $169.00 ($500.- for NH) .

I view this set as a conservative investment, with dual market appeal among collectors of Austria and Sports Topicals. It should do well over the long haul as Austria's economy and stamp collecting population grows. The global aging trend should boost the number of serious Austrian philatelists, as the proportion of Austrians over 60 is projected to grow from 20.7% in 2000 to 33% in 2025, and 41% in 2050, according to a UN Report on Global Aging.

Austria, a nation of 8.3 million people, is one of the 12 richest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita, with a well-developed social market economy and a high standard of living. Alongside its highly developed industries, international tourism is the most important part of the national economy. Germany has historically been the main trading partner of Austria, making it vulnerable to rapid changes in the German economy. However, since Austria became a member state of the European Union it has gained closer ties to other European Union economies, reducing its economic dependence on Germany. In addition, membership in the EU has drawn an influx of foreign investors attracted by Austria's access to the single European market and proximity to the emerging economies of the European Union. Annual GDP growth has averaged 1.5% over the past 5 years, reflecting a recent contraction due to the global financial crisis.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: People's Republic of China 1980 Exhibitions Miniature Sheets (Scott #1627Note)

In 1980, the People's Republic of China issued two rather prosaic stamps celebrating the Exhibitions of the P.R.C. held in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York (Scott #1626-27). Miniature sheets of 12 of these two stamps (Scott #1627Note) were sold only at these exhibitions at increasing prices. Only 27,000 sets of the two sheets were sold, and Scott '11 prices the unused set at $500..

Lately, I've hesitated to recommend any issues of the P.R.C. because the stamp market there is so overheated that it's nearly impossible to keep up with it. Attempting to place a value on the '80 Exhibition sheets, one is faced with the dilemna that is so typical of the market for better P.R.C. issues - dealers are currently buy-listing the issue at over twice Scott, and presumably selling it for 30%-60% more.

Does this mean that an investor should try to acquire the sheets for what dealers are paying? Are the sheets a bargain even at full retail, given the prospect that the current retail price might be the new wholesale price in a few months? It's impossible to say, since the Chinese stamp market is like a game of musical chairs, with the music sped up and playing at full blast.

Nevertheless, I think it unwise to bet against the momentum of the Chinese economic miracle, because the major threats to it- war, an epidemic, political upheaval, or a massive environmental catastrophe - seem unlikely to be realized in the near future. The 1980 Exhibition sheets look like a good value when compared to many comparably priced P.R.C. issues with far greater quantities issued, especially if purchased at or near the current buy prices.

Those interested in becoming part of an international community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group hosts lively discussions concerning stamp investment and practical aspects of collecting, and is also an excellent venue for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade stamps.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Armenia 2003 Neurophysiology Issue (Scott #682)

In 2003, Armenia issued a stamp honoring achievements in Neurophysiology (Scott #682 ). 20,000 of this medical topical stamp were issued (in 2,000 sheets of 10), and Scott '11 prices the unused stamp at $1.10.

For reasons noted in an earlier article, I am bullish on all scarce Medical topicals. The set makes an interesting and very low-risk speculation based both on its topical appeal, and as a bet on the economic growth of Armenia and the development of a stamp market there. This recommendation is consistent with my belief that one of the best ways to play the new and newly resurrected countries of Europe and Asia is to focus on popular topicals with low printings.

Armenia, a nation of about 3.2 million, has made steady economic progress in the face of a number of obstacles, including its legacy of dependence on the Soviet Union as a centrally planned economy, a catastrophic earthquake, and an unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Major economic sectors include agriculture, chemicals, electronics, machinery, and mining, and new industries, such as precious stone processing and jewellery making, information and communication technology, and even tourism are beginning to develop. The economy is also bolstered by investment and support from 5.7 million Armenians living abroad. Annual GDP growth has averaged just under 7% over the last 5 years.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Colombia 1910 Independence Centenary (Scott #331-38)

In 1910, Colombia celebrated the centenary of its attainment of independence from Spain by issuing a set of six stamps (Scott #331-38). Only 8,000 sets were issued, and Scott '11 prices the unused set at $437.55 . In all probability, the vast majority of sets were used and discarded.

A nation of 45 million people, Colombia has been plagued by decades of serious internal armed conflict, drug trafficking, corruption, and gross inequities of income, but has nevertheless racked up impressive annual GDP growth averaging 5.5% over the last 5 years. Moreover, until the global financial fiasco cut its GDP growth to 3% in 2009, it had been steadily accelerating, from 2% in 2003 to 8% in 2008. Recently, the government, armed to the teeth by the U.S., has applied a dual policy of combining military pressure with negotiations to cope with the various guerrilla factions within the country. This seems to have worked to some extent, as the number of insurgents has been halved, and the number of homicides and kidnappings drastically reduced. While some argue that the Colombian government is still utterly corrupt, and has violated human rights and supported paramilitary death squads in order to achieve relative peace, it may be that this is par for the course, given the nation's history. The main challenge that the country faces will be that of sharing more of the wealth with the majority of the population so as to develop more of a middle class and political center. Otherwise, it will devolve into an unstable mess.

Note that a center inverted error exists of the 1/2c low value (Scott #331a; CV= $ as unused).
While quantities issued of this error are not known, I'd estimate that no more than 200 were produced. I advise purchasing it conditional on obtaining expertization.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", which will feature wholesale buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. It includes a buy list for Colombia, which lists the set recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: New Zealand 1934 "Faith in Australia" Airmail (Scott #C5)

In 1934, New Zealand issued an overprinted airmail stamp celebrating the first official air mail flight between New Zealand and Australia. 83,078 stamps were issued, and Scott '11 values the unused stamp at $50.- and the used stamp at $55.-.

I view the stamp as an attractive investment because it has multiple market appeal to collectors of New Zealand, Australia, British Commonwealth, and Aviation topicalists. Many of the stamps that were used may be found on Flight covers, which are also desirable.

New Zealand is a modern, prosperous nation of about 4.3 million people, with a GDP of $115 billion. Over the last 10 years, annual GDP growth has averaged about 3%. The economy was hurt by the recent global financial crisis, and is beginning to recover. In 2005, the World Bank praised New Zealand as being the most business-friendly nation in the world.

Stamps of New Zealand are collected both domestically and by British Commonwealth collectors worldwide . The nation has a stamp collecting demographic similar to Great Britain's, and the demand for better material should increase dramatically as population aging accelerates. The percentage of New Zealander's aged 60 and over will rise from 18% in 2009 to 29% in 2050.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: U.S. 1997 Bugs Bunny Pane of 10, with extended die-cutting (Scott #3138)

In recent years, the U.S. Postal Service has issued several stamps picturing popular cartoon characters. Personally, I find these stamps imbecilic and trite, especially since there are many significant, non-fictional individuals who should be honored, and who are being sent to the back of the stamp selection line due to this decision to "dumb down" and cater to the increasing ignorance, juvenilization, and decreasing attention-span of the American public.

Of course, my own bias in this regard is irrelevant when it comes to determining whether a particular stamp is a good investment. Cartoon issues are popular, and if collectors want to include them in their albums alongside stamps that actually mean something, then that's their business, and therefore the business of a stamp investment blog.

In 1997 the U.S. issued a die-cut pane of ten stamps featuring Bugs Bunny. The normal pane (Scott #3137) is common, as 37.8 million were issued. However, there is also a scarce variety pane, in which the die-cutting extends through the backing paper (Scott #3138). Only
118,000 of #3138 were issued, and Scott '11 prices it unused at $160.00 .

Whether one likes the "silly wabbit" stamps or not, tucking away a few of the variety panes might not be silly at all. As the more vulgar aspects of American culture metastasize around the globe, infecting the growing middle-class in developing countries, demand for the scarcer items among the crowd-pleasing cartoon issues is likely to increase.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Tripolitania 1933 Graf Zeppelin Issue (Scott #C21-26)

In 1933, the Italians issued a set of airmail stamps for their colony of Tripolitania, which later became part of Libya. The set (Scott #C21-26)was intended for use on flight of the Graf Zeppelin. 20,000 sets were issued, and Scott '11 prices the unused set at $48.- ($120.- for NH).

Zeppelin stamps and covers are extremely popular among collectors in Europe and the U.S., and I expect that demand will continue to be strong. The set also has potential dual market appeal to collectors of Italian Colonies/Possessions and collectors of Libya.

Libya has been in the news quite a bit lately, and it is unclear how and when the current crisis will be resolved. A nation of about 6.4 million people, it depends mostly upon oil exports, and has reserves in excess of 44 billion barrels of oil and 54 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. However, the country's not so lovably eccentric authoritarian dictator has siphoned off much of the wealth and distributed it to family members and allies, while keeping his subjects in line by giving free expression to a minimalist conception of human rights. Annual GDP growth has averaged 5% over the last 5 years, and with a little luck, more of that prosperity will be spread among the Libyan people in the future.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Panama 1964 Cathedrals Issue (Scott #C300-21,C321a)

In 1964, Panama issued a handsome engraved airmail set and souvenir sheet picturing famous churches, and commemorating the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church (Scott #C300-21, C321a). 20,000 sets and 17,500 souvenir sheets were issued, and Scott '11 prices them unused at $50.00 and $15.00, respectively.

I favor both the set and the souvenir sheet, as they have multiple market appeal among collectors of Panama, Latin America in general, and Religion topicals. As with all Latin American stamps, there are many collectors who focus on the region as a whole, which supplements demand for the stamps of the individual countries.

A nation of 3.4 million people, Panama is the fastest growing economy and the largest per capita consumer in Central America. Panama's economy, because of its key geographic location, is mainly based on a well developed service sector heavily weighted towards banking, commerce, tourism, trading. The handover of the Canal and military installations by the United States has given rise to large construction projects. Tourism has grown rapidly during the past 5 years due to the government offering tax and price discounts to foreign guests and retirees. The country also has valuable copper and gold deposits, which are beginning to be developed. Annual GDP growth has averaged over 7% over the last 5 years.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", which will feature my buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. I've just posted a buy list for Panama, including the set and souvenir sheet recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent way to keep current on the vagaries of the stamp market.

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.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Thailand 1908 Statue of King Chulalongkorn (Scott #118-24)

I'm initiating coverage of Thailand with the 1908 Statue of King Chulalongkorn Issue (Scott #118-24). Only 5,000 sets were issued, and Scott '11 prices the unused set at $2,369.-. Many of the early stamps of Thailand feature the King or have royal themes, as reverence for the King and Royal Family are an important part of Thai culture. In all likelihood, many of the Statue sets were used as postage and discarded. The best investments among Thai stamps comprise the better stamps which fall under three categories:

  • the early surcharges and overprints, which include the surcharged King's heads, as well as the overprinted semi-postal issues; being overprints, the most valuable of these require expertization;

  • the better sets of the early 20th century, most of which feature the King or Royal themes;

  • the modern souvenir sheets with low printings and/or topical appeal, especially those of the 1970s and '80s.

I intend to spotlight stamps from each of these categories in future articles, as the prospects for significant long-term growth of the Thai stamp market are very promising.

A nation of 66 million people, Thailand is the second largest economy in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Despite this, Thailand ranks midway in the wealth spread in Southeast Asia as it is the 4th richest nation according to GDP per capita, after Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. Though most of the country's population still works in agriculture, the relative contribution of agriculture to GDP has declined while exports of goods and services have increased. Major industries include automobiles and automotive parts, financial services, electric appliances and components, tourism, cement,, appliances, computers and parts, furniture, plastics, textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, and tobacco. Annual GDP growth has averaged just over 3% over the last 5 years, but this takes into account a 2% contraction in 2010, due to the global financial crisis. Those interested in becoming part of an international community of stamp collectors, dealers, and investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group at Facebook. The group hosts lively discussions concerning stamp investment and practical aspects of collecting, and is also an excellent venue for those who wish to buy, sell, or trade stamps.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Tajikistan 1998 Handicrafts (Scott #119-20)

In 1998, Tajikistan issued a set of 3 stamps featuring traditional Tajik handicrafts (Scott #119-20; 119,119A,120). The high value is an imperforate miniature sheet picturing a ceramic tile. Only 10,000 sets were issued, and Scott '11 prices the set unused at $6.00.

The set makes an interesting and low-risk speculation based on its appeal as an Art topical, and as a bet on the economic growth of Tajikiistan and the development of a stamp market there. This recommendation is consistent with my belief that one of the best ways to play the new and newly resurrected countries of Europe and Asia is to focus on popular topicals with low printings.

Tajikistan, a nation of about 8 million people, is still recovering from a devastating civil war which ended in 1997. Since the end of the war, newly established political stability and foreign aid have allowed the country's economy to grow. Trade in commodities such as cotton, aluminium and Uranium has contributed greatly to this steady improvement. Remittance from Taji migrant workers abroad, mainly in Russia, represents a major source of the country's GDP. The Tajik economy is fragile, largely owing to corruption, uneven economic reforms, and economic mismanagement. Annual GDP growth has averaged 6.5% over the last 5 years.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Argentina 1930 Revolution Issue (Scott #374-92)

In 1930, Argentina commemorated its revolution of that year by issuing a set of seventeen stamps (Scott #374-92). The Revolution of 1930 was basically a military coup which put the conservative right in power, resulting in 13 years of political corruption and repression, which was terminated by another coup in 1943. Only 3,000 sets were issued, and Scott '11 values the unused set at $1,264.50.

I continue to favor all better stamps of Latin America as bets on the growth of the region's middle class. As collectors often focus on Latin America as a whole, demand for the stamps of the individual countries is supplemented by the the more general regional focus.

With a population of about 40 million, Argentina benefits from rich natural resources, a highly literate population, an export-oriented agricultural sector, and a diversified industrial base. Historically, Argentina's economic performance has been uneven, as periods of high economic growth have alternated with severe downturns. Over the last 5 years, annual GDP growth has averaged a whopping 8.5%. However, over the last 20 years Argentina has weathered several major debt crises and recessions.

I have begun a new blog, "The Stamp Specialist", which will feature my buy prices for stamps which I am interested in purchasing. I've just posted a buy list for Argentina, including the set recommended in this article. Viewing dealers' buy lists every now and then is an excellent
way to keep current on the vagaries of the stamp market.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Indonesia 1989 World Wildlife Fund Souvenir Sheets (Scott #1381a, 1383a)

Indonesia has issued a number of scarce souvenir sheets over the last thirty years, many of which feature popular topics and printing quantities
in the 20,000- 50,000 range. In 1989, Indonesia issued two souvenir sheets honoring the World Wildlife Fund and picturing Orangutans (Scott #1381a,1383a). Only 20,000 pairs of sheets were issued, and Scott '11 prices them at $140.00 for unused. World Wildlife Fund stamps picture Flora and Fauna that the Fund is dedicated to preserving, and they are among the most popular Plant/Animal topicals.

A recent Price, Waterhouse, Coopers report projects that Indonesia will be one of the world's fastest growing economies over the next forty years. Should this prove accurate, and should a burgeoning Indonesian middle class provide a base for a developing stamp market, then it is likely that the values of the country's better modern souvenir sheets will increase many-fold.

Indonesia is a rapidly developing, though still poor, country of 230 million people, with an annual GDP growth rate hovering around 5%-6%. It is the largest economy in Southeast Asia. While the manufacturing and service sectors are growing rapidly, agriculture still employs more of the working population than either. The country has extensive natural resources, including crude oil, natural gas, tin, copper, and gold. Its major export commodities include oil and gas, electrical appliances, plywood, rubber, and textiles. Like most emerging market nations, Indonesia faces challenges which will have to be addressed, including corruption and major inequities in the distribution of income.