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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Azerbaijan 2001 Olympic Medalists Souvenir Sheet (Scott #713)

In January of 2001, Azerbaijan issued a flashy souvenir sheet honoring the Azerbaijani Olympic medalists of the Sydney, Australia Olympics of the previous year (Scott #713). 25,000 were issued, and Scott '12 prices the unused souvenir sheet at $5.75.

The sheet has obvious topical appeal for Sports and Olympics collectors, as well as being an inexpensive bet on the growth of Azerbaijan's economy. Recommending it 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.

Azerbaijan is an oil-rich nation of about 9 million people, which also has significant reserves of natural gas and various minerals. Agriculture and tourism are also important to the Azerbaijani economy. The country shares all the problems of the former Soviet republics in making the transition from a command to a market economy, but its energy resources brighten its long-term prospects. It has begun making progress on economic reform, and old economic ties and structures are slowly being replaced. Annual GDP growth has averaged a stellar 16% over the last 5 years, largely based on the frenetic development of the country's oil wealth - an estimated 7 billion barrels of reserves.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Switzerland 1940 National Fete Day Souvenir Sheet (Scott # B105)

In 1940, Switzerland issued a semi-postal souvenir sheet honoring National Fete Day (Scott #B105). 75,384 sheets were issued, and Scott '12 prices it unused at $ .

Proceeds from the non-postal surtax funded the Swiss National Fund and the Red Cross, thereby rendering this issue a Red Cross topical.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is an international humanitarian movement with approximately 97 million volunteers, members and staff worldwide which was founded to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for all human beings, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering, without any discrimination based on nationality, race, sex, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. From a philatelic investment perspective, the support of almost 100 million of people for this movement creates a significant collector base for better Red Cross/Red Crescent topicals.

Switzerland, a nation of 7.8 million people,is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita, with a nominal per capita GDP of $67,384. The country experienced slow growth in the 1990s and the early 2000s, and was hurt by the global financial crisis, which has resulted in greater support for economic reforms and harmonization with the European Union. Annual GDP growth has averaged about 1.6% over the last five years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Argentina 1931 Coup Anniversary Overprint (Scott #399-405)

On September 6, 1930, Argentina experienced a coup d'etat which the Argentine military, aided by Standard Oil, deposed President Hipolito Yrigoyen, the country's first elected leader. This resulted in the rule of a quasi-fascist, authoritarian regime during a period known in Argentina as the "Infamous Decade."

In September of 1931, six stamps were overprinted to celebrate the first anniversary of the coup (Scott #399-405). 20,000 sets were issued, and Scott '12 prices the unused set at $85.50. Like many better items of Latin America, the set is grossly undervalued, and serves as a poignant reminder of the fact that multinational corporations have often opposed democracy in Latin America by installing or supporting profitable dictatorships.

I continue to favor all better stamps of Latin America as bets on the growth of the region's middle class. Demand for the stamps of the individual countries is bolstered by the tendency of collectors to focus on the region as a whole.

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 over 6%. 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.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Tahiti 1882-1915 Issues

Tahiti was first visited by Europeans in 1767, who later colonized the island and imported the wondrous benefits of Western civilization, including typhus, influenza, smallpox, alcoholism, prostitution, and Christianity. This disrupted the society of the generally friendly and easy-going native population, over 80% of whom were wiped out.

The French annexed the island in 1843, and brutally crushed a rebellion by the ungrateful natives. In 1882, the French began issuing stamps for Tahiti, by overprinting their French Colonies General Issues. Thirty-one regular postage stamps, two semi-postals, and twenty six postage dues were issued, and all of Tahiti's stamps which catalog $50 or more had printings ranging from extremely low (less than 100) for the most expensive, to modest (low thousands) for the least. The printing quantities of many of these stamps are noted in the StampSelector Scarce Stamp Quantitites Issued List (under the France and Colonies category).

I recommend purchase of all stamps of Tahiti cataloging $250 or more. This includes many of the regular issues, the 1915 15c Blue Semi-postal (Scott #B1), and all of the Postage Due stamps. As fake overprints exist, these stamps should be purchased conditional on obtaining expertization. Though rather plain-looking, stamps of Tahiti  are eagerly sought after by collectors of French Colonies, French Polynesia, and the South Pacific area in general.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

General Commentary: Demographic Trends Favoring a Multi-Decade Bull Market in Stamps

In the 2009 StampSelector article "General Commentary: Demographics and the Stamp Market", I described demographic trends which determined whether a particular country's stamps would tend to rise or decline in value. As I am now convinced that various long-term global trends favor a multi-decade bull market for better stamps in general, I've decided to summarize some of the most important of these trends:

1) The Rise of a Global Middle Class: I've noted this trend in several articles, including "General Commentary: When Does a Collector Become an Investor?" The basic thrust of the argument is that democratization and the emergence of a global middle class, especially in rapidly developing countries that were once considered part of the "Third World", is bringing tens of millions of people into the philatelic fold.

2) Global Aging: I described this trend in the article "General Commentary: The Aging Population and the Coming Stamp Market Boom", which notes the tendency of many collectors to begin young, put the hobby on hold for several decades, and then return to it on a more serious basis later in life, implying that the population of stamp collectors will increase as the proportion of middle-aged and elderly people grows.

3) The Growth of the Internet: while there is no substitute for actually examining stamps before purchasing them, the buying and selling of stamps online has grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade. Stamps are a nearly ideal commodity for online trading, as they are small, flat, and easy to scan. While the risk of purchasing overgraded stamps still exists, many venues, including Ebay, give buyers with the right to return stamps for a refund, and may also provide feedback or references. An ever-increasing wealth of accessible information may be found online, as well the opportunity to join collector groups and clubs via social networking. These changes have revolutionized collectibles markets in general, and will continue to do so as more and more people gain Internet access. It is all quite astounding when one considers that only 20 years ago, a collector had to amass a substantial philatelic library in order to have access to information that is now free, that he probably attended only one or two local stamp clubs (if any), and that the only convenient means of disposing of his collection were either by selling it to a dealer or through a stamp auctioneer.

4) Increasing Social and Technological Complexification: the rapid social and technological advances of recent years and the unprecedented dynamism of Modern Society have their drawbacks, including higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Clearly, many in our society suffer from "complexity burn-out," and do well to seek out activities which are refreshingly simple, relaxing, and enjoyable. Stamp collecting has been used as a form of therapy to help handicapped and autistic children, and a charitable organization, "Stamps for the Wounded", promotes stamp collecting among wounded soldiers in hospitals, in order to raise their morale and help them to heal more quickly. Whether as a form of mental health maintenance or simply as recreation, Philately offers an attractive alternative for those who are tired of the noise and inanity of television or video games.

Those interested in learning more about investing in stamps are encouraged to read the Philatelic Investment Guide ($5), available on Kindle, and accessible from any computer.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: U.S. 2005 $15 Mini-sheet (RW72b)

In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the first Duck Stamp Mini-sheet (Scott #RW72b). The sheet was issued with little fanfare, and most Duck Stamp collectors did not even realize that it even existed until it had sold out. 1,000 mini-sheets were issued and signed by the artist, and Scott '12 prices the unused sheet at $2,000.00.

This is, by far, the scarcest Duck stamp item ever issued by the Federal Government, and will probably remain a key for some time to come.

The Duck Stamp collecting community is interesting because it represents an atypical crossover market which includes collectors of general U.S. stamps, U.S. Revenues, Duck hunting collectibles and Wildlife art. Because revenues from the sales of the stamps are used to purchase and protect wildlife habitats, it may be considered a "green" collectible, and Duck stamp collecting is actively promoted by the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service. I estimate that currently there are between 8,000 to 10,000 "serious" Duck stamp collectors in the U.S., and many others who buy them to them to fill spaces in their general U.S. albums.

Coincidentally, the Scott value of the sheet and the price of an ounce of gold are about the same. However, over time, humans have produced about 10 billion ounces of gold, enough to fill a cube 82 feet on each side, while there are only 1,000 of RW72b, enough to comprise a small stack the thickness of a few decks of cards. And, of course, there is plenty more gold to be found, especially if there are advances in mining and refining technology. One might well ask: which investment will glitter more, over the long-term?

I wish to thank Bob Dumaine, President of Sam Houston Philatelics, for providing much of the information used in this article.

Those interested in learning more about investing in stamps are encouraged to read the Philatelic Investment Guide ($5), available on Kindle, and accessible from any computer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Sudan 1931-35 Statue of General Gordon (Scott #C4-15)

From 1931-35, Sudan issued an attractive set of 15 airmail stamps picturing a statue of General Charles "Chinese" Gordon sitting atop a camel (Scott #C4-15). 35,000 sets were issued, and Scott '12 prices the unused set at $53.40.

The set has potential dual market appeal among collectors of British Commonwealth and collectors of Sudan.

Until recently, Sudan was a nation of about 42 million people, living under what is perhaps the most vicious regime on the planet. It had suffered several civil wars over the last 50 years, including the one waged in Darfur, which earned the government international condemnation and charges of genocide. Recently, Southern Sudan (population = 8.2 million) gained independence, and it is unclear whether this will result in a lasting peace. Both countries are rich in oil, natural gas, and minerals. Agricultural production remains the most important sector, employing 80% of the workforce and contributing 39% of GDP, but most farms remain rain-fed and susceptible to drought. Political instability,adverse weather, and weak world agricultural prices ensures that much of the population will remain at or below the poverty line for years. Annual GDP growth (for Sudan as a whole) has been very high, averaging almost 8% over the last five years. However, it is very likely that most (or all) of the prosperity has benefited only the ruling elite, as Sudan was not only one of the world's most murderous countries, but also one of the most corrupt.

I recommend the set on the basis of its appeal among British Commonwealth collectors, as it's honored subject, General Gordon, gained fame as a martyr for the British Empire. Should a significant collector population ever develop within either of the two Sudans, it would provide an additional catalyst for price appreciation.

Those interested in joining a community of stamp investors are welcome to join the "Stampselectors" group on Facebook. The group provides a valuable forum for those who wish discuss this blog, as well as trade or communicate with stamp collectors, dealers, and investors from all over the world.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Panama 1948 Revolutionaries (Scott #C88-95)

In 1948, Panama issued a set of eight airmail stamps honoring the Revolutionaries of 1903, who led Panama to secede from Colombia (Scott #C88-95). 6,474 sets were issued, and Scott '12 prices the unused set at $18.50.

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.

Those interested in learning more about investing in stamps are encouraged to read the Philatelic Investment Guide ($5), available on Kindle, and easily accessible from any computer.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Bulgaria 1953 Medicinal Flowers Souvenir Sheet (Scott #843a)

In 1953, Bulgaria issued a souvenir sheet picturing Medicinal Flowers (Scott #843a). 50,000 were issued, and Scott '12 prices it unused at $55.00 .

Aside from being an investment in Bulgaria's economic development, the souvenir sheet also appeals to collectors interested in either Flower or Medical topicals. I think it likely that interest in Medical Topicals will trend upward as the number of medical professionals increases.

Since the fall of communism, Bulgaria, with a population of about 7.6 million, has experienced rapid economic growth, although its GDP per capita is only about $13,000, about 40% of the European Union average. It has an industrialized, open free-market economy, with a large, moderately advanced private sector and a number of strategic state-owned enterprises. The World Bank classifies it as an "upper-middle-income economy." Tourism is a steadily growing, and the country also benefits from rich natural resources, a highly educated population and an export-oriented agricultural sector. Annual GDP growth has averaged 2.5% over the last 5 years, reflecting a recent major contraction due to the European debt mess.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Stamp Investment Tip: Nepal 1961 Children's Day (Scott #134)

I'm initiating coverage of Nepal by recommending a rather plain typographed stamp, the 1961 Children's Day stamp, picturing Prince Gyanendra canceling stamps (Scott #134). 16,000 were issued, and Scott '12 prices the unused stamp at $60.00.

While clearly the stamp is visually boring and is of little topical interest (other than a tenuous tie-in with the UN's Universal Children's Day), its scarcity and inexpensiveness render it a low-risk bet on the economic development of Nepal, as well as the growth of interest in stamps of the British Commonwealth. Mediocre centering is endemic to this issue, so when purchasing, attempt to select examples which are F-VF or better - nicer than the one pictured here.

A Himalayan nation of about 27 million, Nepal is a primarily agricultural country, and major products include tea, rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, root crops, and milk.The spectacular landscape and diverse, exotic cultures of Nepal represent considerable potential for tourism, but growth in this industry has been stifled by recent political instability. Annual GDP growth has averaged just under 4% over the last five years.