DEFINITION of 'Bullion Coins'

Bullion coins are coins made from precious metals with a defined weight and content that are generally used for investment purposes. Bullion itself is the term for bulk precious metal that is cast as bars with a specified weight. Bullion coins are basically a smaller, more affordable version of bullion. Bullion are typically minted in weights that are fractions of one troy ounce to fit a variety of budgets. Bullion coins are usually made from gold and silver, but they are also be available in platinum and palladium. Many countries have their own official bullion coins, such as the American Eagle series of coins available from the United States Mint, and the Canadian Maple Leaf series offered by the Royal Canadian Mint.

BREAKING DOWN 'Bullion Coins'

Bullion coins appeal to investors who are looking for a physical asset that has stood the test of time as a store of value. Coins minted from precious metals have, of course, been used for thousands of years as a store of wealth and a transactional currency. With paper currencies, however, bullion coins have moved firmly into the realm of investment as opposed to being used simply as currency. In times of financial uncertainty, bullion coins tend to perform well as a safe haven. Even in times of economic stability, bullion coins generally keep their value over time.

Valuing Bullion Coins

Bullion coins are often given a face value, but it is usually lower than the true value of the precious metals making up the coin. Bullion coins are often given a melt value, which is the theoretical value if you melted the coin down and sold it at the current spot price for the precious metal it is made of. So if the spot value of silver is $16 a troy ounce, then the melt value of a single half troy ounce silver bullion coin is $8.

That said, bullion coins usually command a premium over the melt value in the actual marketplace. On newly minted bullion coins, the premium charged over market value can be attributed to the relative liquidity and small size of bullion coins compared to bullion as well as the costs involved in manufacturing and distributing them. In secondary trading, however, additional premiums can develop specific to the coins. This is due to the numismatic value rather than the melt value. Numismatic value refers to the higher value that is commanded due to the relative rarity or particular beauty of a specific edition of a bullion coin. Unlike the melt value, discerning the numismatic value is more art than math.

Popular Bullion Coins

American Eagle gold bullion coins are among the most widely traded bullion coins in the world. These coins are minted from 22 karat gold (91.67% purity) and are available in four weights – 1/10, 1/4, 1/2 and 1 troy ounce. Other popular gold bullion coins are the Canadian Maple Leaf, South African Krugerrands and Chinese Gold Pandas.

Investing in Bullion Coins

Investing always requires some careful research. Investors in bullion coins need to be aware that physical assets come with ongoing storage costs, whether that is more insurance coverage for home storage or an ongoing rental of secure storage like a safety deposit box. Beyond keeping coins safe, investors need to approach the secondary market with caution as coin dealers may charge higher premiums based on numismatic factors. Shopping around for dealers with the smallest premiums over melt value is a good first step. It is also recommended to stick with the higher weight coins, as the 1 once coins trade at less of a premium over spot prices than smaller, more affordable coins. Of course, if you aren't solely interested in buying near the melt value, then bullion coins are more a collectible investment than a precious metals diversification play. In which case, best of luck - you may well need it.

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