Boston Bullion Learning Center
How are Silver and Gold Premiums Calculated?
The price paid for each ounce of bullion is composed of the metal’s spot price and the bullion premium.
Here’s the price composition of some common rounds:
•Silver Eagle: 80% spot price / 20% bullion premium
•Silver Canadian Maple Leaf: 84% spot price / 16% bullion premium
•Gold Eagle: 96% spot price / 4% bullion premium
Difference Between Spot Prices and Bullion Premiums
How are these bullion premiums determined? How can bullion buyers take advantage of the lowest possible premiums?
Spot Price: The current price per ounce exchanged on global commodity markets.
Bullion Premium: The additional price charged for a bullion product over its current spot price.
The calculation for bullion premiums depends on five key factors:
- •The current bullion market supply and demand factors.
- •Local, national, and global economic conditions.
- •The volume of bullion offered or bid upon.
- •The type of bullion products being sold.
- •The bullion seller’s objectives.
Bullion Supply and Demand
The total amount of supply and demand of bullion is a major influence on bullion product premiums.
Bullion dealers are businesses, and they are actively trying to balance product inventory and profitability. Too much inventory means high costs. Too little inventory means angry customers. Fluctuations in the gold and silver markets affect bullion market supply, and this impacts premium prices.
For example, in the Western hemisphere during the summer, calmer price patterns mean the bullion supply tends to increase. Sellers mark down their prices to attract market share.
During other months, silver and gold prices tend to have more volatility. This leads to increased buying and selling, and bullion sellers react accordingly. Some may mark up prices to prevent running out of inventory, or to capture profits.
Depending on their size and significance, market events can affect bullion premiums local to global stages.
- •In a small town with only one brick and mortar coin shop, the dealer may boost their premiums to guard against running out of inventory.
- •In a country like Venezuela, where the local currency is losing value at an extreme rate, locals may opt to buy bullion to preserve their wealth. This means higher premiums.
- •At a global level, in the event of a large crisis (similar to the 2008 Financial Crisis), it is likely premiums would increase significantly as demand spikes and options diminish.Volumes Being Sold
Every seller incurs costs on each transaction such as time, overhead, or payment processing costs. For a seller, a single transaction for 1 oz of gold may have similar transaction costs as a 1000 oz transaction.
Therefore, transactions with higher volumes of bullion have their costs spread out. As a result, premiums tend to be higher on small volume purchases, and lower per oz on high volume buys.
Form of Bullion for Sale
As a general rule, the larger the piece of bullion is, the less the premium costs are per oz.
It costs a mint far less to make one 100 oz silver bar, vs. 100 rounds of 1 oz each.
There is also typically a significant difference in premiums between government and private mints.
For example the most popular bullion coins in the world are American Silver and Gold Eagle coins. The U.S. Mint charges a minimum of $2 oz over spot for each Silver Eagle coin and +3% over spot for each Gold Eagle coin they strike and sell to the world’s bullion dealer network.
A private company like Sunshine Minting will sell their silver rounds and bars in bulk for less than ½ the premium most government mints will sell their products for.
Bullion Seller’s Objectives
Whether the seller is a large bullion dealer or a private individual, they will almost always want to yield the highest ask price they can get for the bullion they are selling.
That said, just because one wants to receive a large premium on the bullion they are selling, that doesn’t necessarily mean the market’s demand or willing buyers will comply.
Dealers must consider these factors when setting premiums:
- •Market share objectives
- •Competitor strategies
- •Price equilibrium strategy
If a dealer sets its price too high, buyers will likely choose to go to a lower priced competitor.
If a dealer sets their price too low, they could end up selling out of inventory without garnering enough profit margin to pay for the company’s overhead costs.
Dealers and sellers are both typically trying to find the price equilibrium “sweet spot” where the time required to complete a sale is minimized and the seller’s profit is maximized.
This is more difficult than it sounds, as there can be thousands of factors at play when establishing the best possible premium to charge in line with one’s overall objectives.
Price Composition for Bullion Products
When bullion markets are experiencing normal demand, about 80-95% of silver bullion’s price discovery is comprised of the current spot price.
For gold, spot prices approximately comprise of 95-98% of gold bullion’s overall price discovery.
Glossary of Term
Actuals — Physical cash commodities as opposed to futures contracts.
Ag — See “Argent”. Chemical symbol for silver.
Alloy — Mixture of more than one element, generally metallic, which is more useful than either metal on its own.
Allocated Metal — Refers to the accounting assignment, or reporting of, defined quantities of specific physical products to a particular account. For example, a custodian may have 100 ten-ounce gold bars in its care and “allocate” 50 bars to account A and 50 bars to account B. Allocated precious metals products may be segregated or commingled, fungible or non-fungible.
Approved Carriers — Armored carriers approved by an Exchange for the transportation of silver, gold, platinum, and palladium.
Argentum — Latin. Its abbreviation, Ag, is used as the chemical symbol for silver.
Ask — A motion to sell. The same as offer. The Ask price is the price at which a dealer offers to sell a commodity.
Assay — To test a metal for purity or quality.
Au — See “Aurum”. Chemical symbol for gold.
Aurum — Latin. Its abbreviation, Au, is used as the chemical symbol for gold.
Backwardation — Market situation in which futures prices are lower in each succeeding delivery month. Also known as an inverted market. The opposite of contango.
Bactericides — Materials that kill bacteria, such as silver salts.
Bank Wire — Funds transferred through the Federal Reserve System from one financial institution to another for the benefit of a specific account.
Base Metal — Copper, aluminum, iron, lead, nickel, tin and zinc.
Basis — The differential that exists at any time between the cash, or spot, price of a given commodity and the price of the nearest futures contract for the same or a related commodity. Basis may reflect different time periods, product forms, qualities, or locations. Cash price minus Futures price equals Basis.
Bear Market — Market in which prices are in a declining trend.
Bid — A motion to buy a commodity at a specified price. Opposite of offer. The Bid price is the price at which a dealer offers to buy a commodity.
Bullion — Precious metals that are traded based on their intrinsic metal value. Bullion may be in the form of bars, plates, ingots and coin.
Bullion Coin — A precious metal coin whose market value is determined by its inherent precious metal content. They are bought and sold mainly for investment purposes.
Bull Market — Market in which prices are in an upward trend.
Carry Market — A market situation in which prices are higher in the succeeding delivery months than in the nearest delivery month. Also known as contango, it is the opposite of backwardation.
Carrying Charge — The total cost of storing a physical commodity over a period of time. Includes storage charges, insurance, interest, and opportunity costs.
Cash — U.S. currency.
Cash Commodity — The actual physical commodity. Sometimes called a spot commodity or actuals.
Cash Market — The market for a cash commodity where the actual physical product is traded.
Cashier’s Check — Check drawn on the bank with a bank official’s signature on the check.
Central Bank — A national bank that operates to establish monetary and fiscal policy, and to control the money supply and interest rates. In the United States, the Federal Reserve Board is often referred to as the central bank.
Close — A period defined by an exchange and occurring at the end of each trading session wherein any transactions are considered to be made “at the close.” Also known as the “settlement.”
Commission — The fee charged by a broker for the execution of an order.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) — A federal regulatory agency authorized under the Commodity Futures Trading Commission Act of 1974 to regulate futures trading in all commodities. The commission has five commissioners, one of whom is designated as chairman, all appointed by the President, subject to Senate confirmation. The CFTC is independent of the Cabinet departments.
Contango — A market situation in which prices are higher in the succeeding delivery months than in the nearest delivery month. Also known as a carry market, it is the opposite of backwardation.
Current Delivery Month — The futures contract which ceases trading and becomes deliverable during the present month or the month closest to delivery. Also called the spot month.
Deliverable Bar — A precious metals bar with a weight, fineness and hallmark approved as a tradable unit on a commodity exchange.
Delivery — Delivery generally refers to the change of ownership or control of a commodity under specific terms and procedures established by the Exchange upon which the contract is traded. Typically, except for energy, the commodity must be placed in an approved warehouse, depository, or other storage facility, and be inspected by approved personnel, after which the facility issues a warehouse receipt, shipping certificate, demand certificate, or due bill, which becomes a transferable delivery instrument. Delivery of the instrument usually is preceded by a notice of intention to deliver.
Delivery Point — A location designated by an exchange at which delivery may be made in fulfillment of contract terms.
Depository or Warehouse Receipt — A document issued by a depository institution indicating ownership of a commodity stored in a vault or warehouse. In the case of many commodities deliverable against futures contracts, transfer of ownership of an appropriate depository receipt may affect contract delivery.
Derivative — Financial instrument derived from a cash market commodity, futures contract, or other financial instrument. Derivatives can be traded on regulated exchange markets or over-the-counter. For example, futures contracts are derivatives of physical commodities, options on futures are derivatives of futures contracts.
Dore Bullion — An impure alloy of silver or gold produced at a mine.
Ductility — An ability to change shape drastically without breaking. The capacity of a metal to be hammered into a thin sheet or drawn into a fine wire.
Exchange of Futures for Physicals (EFP) — A futures contract provision involving an agreement for delivery of physical product that does not necessarily conform to contract specifications in all terms from one market participant to another and a concomitant assumption of equal and opposite futures positions by the same participants at the time of the agreement.
Face Value — The monetary value worth of a coin. This does not necessarily correspoind to its actual worth. For example, a pre-1965 U.S. half dollar has a face value of $0.50 but its intrinsic value is tied to the price of silver and much higher.
Fineness — The purity of precious metal measured in parts per thousand. A “Good Delivery” bar contains a least 995 part pure gold and no more that 5 parts other metals or impurities. A bar that is 999.9 fine is 99.99% pure gold and referred to as “four nines” gold.
Fine Weight — The weight of precious metal contained in a coin or bullion as determined by multiplying the gross weight by the fineness.
Fine Silver — Pure silver. Generally 99.9% pure.
Fungible — Interchangeable. Products that can be substituted for purposes of shipment or storage.
Futures Contract — A contract between a buyer and seller, whereby the buyer is obligated to take delivery and the seller is obligated to provide future delivery of a fixed amount of a commodity at a predetermined price at a specified location. Futures contracts are most often liquidated prior to the delivery date and are generally used as a financial risk management and investment tool rather than for supply purposes. These contracts are traded exclusively on regulated exchanges and are settled daily based on their current value in the marketplace.
Gold — A chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol Au (L. aurum) and atomic number 79. A soft, shiny, yellow, heavy, malleable, ductile (trivalent and univalent) transition metal, gold does not react with most chemicals but is attacked by chlorine, fluorine and aqua regia. The metal occurs as nuggets or grains in rocks and in alluvial deposits and is one of the coinage metals. Gold is used as a monetary standard for many nations and is also used in jewelry, dentistry, and in electronics.
Gold/Silver Ratio — The number of ounces of silver required to buy one ounce of gold at current spot prices.
Good Delivery — Approved metals brands acceptable for delivery against the metals contracts.
Hallmark — A stamped impression on the surface of a precious metals bar that indicates the producer, serial number, weight, and purity of metal content.
Hedge — The initiation of a position in a futures or options market that is intended as a temporary substitute for the sale or purchase of the actual commodity. For example: the sale of futures contracts in anticipation of future sales of cash commodities as a protection against possible price declines, or the purchase of futures contracts in anticipation of future purchases of cash commodities as a protection against the possibility of increasing costs.
Intrinsic Value — The actual value of the precious metals contained within a bullion bar or coin.
Inverted Market — A futures market is said to be inverted when distant contract months are selling at a discount to nearby contract months; also known as backwardation.
Karat — A measure of the purity of gold. Pure gold is 24-karat. 22-Karat gold is 22/24ths pure or 91.67% pure.
Legal Tender — Coins that have been authorized by Congress. This includes circulating coins and all commemorative coins legislated by Congress.
Licensed Warehouse — Warehouse that has been approved for the storage of silver or gold deliverable against a silver or gold futures contracts.
Licensed Weighmaster — An organization approved by an exchange to witness and verify the weighing of silver or gold delivered against a silver or gold futures contract.
Liquid Market — A market characterized by the ability to buy and sell with relative ease.
London Fix — Price set each day in London by five old-line firms. The “fixing price” reflects the price at which buy and sell orders from the firms’ customers’ are in balance. The London Fix is an internationally recognized benchmark price for that particular moment in time.
Malleable — Having the property of being deprived of form, accepting deformation under pressure or hammering without rupture or fracture.
Market Value — The total price of a bullion bar or coin inclusive of intrinsic value and any premium or discount.
Money Order — Order for the payment of a specified amount of money, usually issued and payable at a bank or post office.
National Futures Association (NFA) — Futures industry trade association which promulgates rules of conduct and mediates disputes between customers and brokers.
Non-Fungible – Opposite of fungible. Product is not interchangeable.
Offer — A motion to sell a commodity at a specified price. Opposite of bid. The Offer price is the price at which a dealer offers to sell a commodity.
Palladium — A chemical element with symbol Pd and atomic number 46. A rare silver-white transition metal of the platinum group, palladium resembles platinum chemically and is extracted from some copper and nickel ores. It is primarily used as an industrial catalyst and in jewelry.
Pd — Used as the chemical symbol for palladium.
Personal Check — A bank draft drawn on an individual account or a company account and signed by an authorized person.
Platinum — A chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol Pt and atomic number 78. A heavy, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal, platinum is resistant to corrosion and occurs in some nickel and copper ores along with some native deposits. Platinum is used in jewelry, laboratory equipment, electrical contacts, dentistry, and automobile emissions control devices.
Premium — The market value of a coin less the intrinsic value of its metal content. A coin that contains $6.00 of silver (intrinsic value) and sells for $7.50 (market value) has a $1.50 premium.
Pt — Used as the chemical symbol for platinum.
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) — An independent agency that administers federal securities laws and regulates the firms that buy and sell those securities.
Settlement Price — The price established by the Exchange settlement committee at the close of each trading session as the official price to be used by the clearinghouse in determining net gains or losses, margin requirements, and the next day’s price limits. The term “settlement price” is often used as an approximate equivalent to the term “closing price.” The close in futures trading refers to a brief period at the end of the day, during which transactions frequently take place quickly and at a range of prices immediately before the bell. Therefore, there frequently is no single closing price, but a range of prices. In months with significant activity, the settlement price is derived by calculating the weighted average of the prices at which trades were conducted during that period.
Silver — A chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol Ag (from the traditional abbreviation for the Latin Argentum) and atomic number 47. A soft white lustrous transition metal, silver has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity of any metal and occurs in minerals and in free form. This metal is used in coins, jewelry, tableware, and photography.
Spot — Term which describes one-time open market cash transaction, where a commodity is purchased “on the spot” at current market rates. Spot transactions are in contrast to term sales, which specify a steady supply of product over a period of time.
Spot Market — A market of immediate delivery of product and immediate payment.
Spot Month — The futures contract closest to maturity. The nearby delivery month.
Spread — The difference between the bid price and the ask price of a bullion bar or coin.
Sterling Silver — Silver of a fineness of 92.5%.
Troy Ounce — A unit weight, equal to 1.09711 avoirdupois ounces. The troy ounce is the traditional unit weight for precious metals, believed to be named after a weight used at the annual fair at Troyes in France in the Middle Ages.
1 ounce Troy = 480 grains = 31.1035 grams = 1.09711 avoirdupois ounces
Unallocated Metal — Refers to the accounting assignment, or reporting of, precious metals balances denominated in ounces to a particular account, also known as a statement account. Unallocated holdings are sometimes referred to as “pooled holdings” because they may comprise a mix of various products held at various custodians. The mix of products (in ounces) equals the unallocated balance (in ounces). In an unallocated account, specific bars or coins are not assigned to any particular customer; customers own a proportionate interest in the bulk holdings.
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