Facts have a different feel when they’re personal. And speaking personally, evidence that Americans are seriously spooked is starting to pile up. In the past few months:
• While researching a magazine article on offshore investing I interviewed Erika Nolan, executive director of the Sovereign Society, a Florida-based consultancy. She noted that her client base is changing: “Historically, offshore solutions have been reserved for very high net worth individuals. But starting in about 2001 we started to see people in the ‘mid-tier millionaire’ stream — $1 million to $30 million net worth — saying ‘I’ve worked really hard, I don’t want to have my assets at risk.’ Most recently we’ve been seeing a big demand from Americans saying ‘I just want to put $100,000 or $500,000 offshore. I’m reporting it; it has nothing to do with taxes.’ It’s just asset safety at this point.”
• My father-in-law decided he wanted some gold, so I called a local coin store and asked Kevin, the shop’s owner, to find us some Krugerrands. He predicted a few weeks for delivery, which seemed reasonable given the chatter about tight supplies, so I placed an order and wrote a big check. That was three months ago, and the coins still aren’t in. I called Kevin the other day and found him both busy and frustrated. “I could make a million dollars this year if I could only get inventory,” he said. “This would be a career year.” He apologized for the long wait and said there were now only a few people ahead of us on the list.
[6/23/09: Personal experience is not always an accurate reflection of real world conditions. As several readers pointed out, gold and silver shortages have eased, and plenty of one-ounce coins are now available in stores or for immediate delivery. Sorry about that…I’ll be calling my dealer today to see what’s up with those Krugerrands.]
• I checked in with a friend, a business owner and semi-professional poker player just back from a Seattle gambling trip. But instead of talking poker or kids we toured his stash of freeze-dried food and his growing arsenal that includes a Dirty Harry-style 44 magnum pistol and a very cool black pump-action shotgun. This guy is well-educated, well-traveled, and well-off, and he’s preparing to blow away looters from his bedroom window.
• My 11-year-old son Alex and I stopped by a local gun store. This is going to be a “skills acquisition” summer in which we learn to ride horses, handle guns, and change a bike flat (and when I finally learn to Salsa) so we had some general questions for Charles, the gun shop owner, about gun safety classes and which rifle is the best starter model. Charles said our selection was limited: It seems that there’s a run on ammo, and he can’t guarantee anything more than low-velocity 22 caliber bullets. When we got home I did a quick Google search for “bullet shortage” and sure enough, that market looks just like those for gold and silver coins, with demand swamping supply, long waiting lists, and panicky hoarding.
It’s no secret, of course, that small-denomination bullion was hard to come by for most of the past year and gun sales are way up, but experiencing these kinds of shortages first-hand brings home the reality of the situation, which is that the social mood is growing darker. On the surface everything looks normal; no one is protesting in the streets, the trash is getting picked up, and elections are as orderly as ever. But the market is quietly reallocating resources as individuals insure against a systemic breakdown. Hope those Krugerrands come soon.