Gold price sag has dealers offering some extra glitter
New York — To the Florida investment adviser, the offer of a ''free Apple II computer'' if he purchased 200 gold coins worth about $70,000 from the California gold coin dealer seemed almost ''too good to be true.'' But today, from his Boca Raton office, his computer is humming away.
As this buyer (who wished to remain unnamed) and others are finding out, gold coin dealers and precious-metals dealers, caught in the middle of a slump in gold prices, are resorting to fancy marketing techniques to sell gold.
For example, Jack Mann, president of Krugerrands Unlimited, is giving Apple computers, floor safes, and ''free gold'' to purchasers of the South African coins. Still other dealers are willing to offer what they term ''deferred delivery'' contracts, which allows the buyer of the metal to buy it at today's spot price, but take delivery of it at a later date, placing the inventory risk of holding the metal on the dealer. Others are advertising gold for sale at '' 1979 prices,'' as if the metal were last year's fashions. Finally, some are running afoul of the law, promising more to the buyers than they legitimately can, or offering ''off exchange'' options to buy gold to bargain hunters.
At first glance, it appears the marketing ploys, as well as the public's feeling that gold is underpriced, have paid off. According to Michael F. Vigil, who heads up the Krugerrand marketing operations for International Gold, the marketing arm of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, first-quarter Krugerrand sales were up 25 percent, to 1.3 million ounces of gold -- the best quarter since 1978. In March, Krugerrand sales were the highest in two years.
The price of gold has likewise spurted recently. From its low of $312 per troy ounce on March 15, it has now climbed to $362.75 at the April 16 closing price in London. Volume on the commodity's exchanges has increased and, just recently, some of the commodities exchanges raised their margins on gold - an indication of increasing volatility. ''The small investors are flocking back,'' Mr. Vigil intones.
Still, there are a lot of uncertainties hanging over the gold market. The Russians may return as sellers, even though they recently obtained a loan from some Swiss banks using their gold as collateral. Furthermore, interest rates have remained high -- giving investors second thoughts about socking away their funds in a non-interest-bearing item. And there are a lot of people who bought gold at higher prices and would simply like to ''get even and get out,'' should the price climb to their purchase level.
Despite these concerns, dealers say interest from the public is returning - in part stimulated by the marketing ploys.
Mr. Mann, who was giving away the computers, which cost about $2,500 apiece, says his main reason for doing so was to try to entice the ''repeat buyer, who feels like he got good service and a good deal from me.''
To some, such deals seem too good to be true. Matt Tackeff, president of Fiscal & Monetary Services, a Portsmouth, N.H.-based firm, figures that the commission on 200 Krugerrands, based on today's price, would be between $720 and depending on the size of the order. If the computer sells for $2,500, Mr. Tackeff figures Mr. Mann must be losing money. Mr. Mann simply replies he's not making much money on the deal.
The Tackeff firm, however, mindful of the marketing blitz some dealers are making, is studying the possiblity of offering computer time to investors with their own terminals. Howell Hurst, Fiscal's vice-president, says investors could phone into a computer in New Hampshire, for example, and get help with their taxes and personal finances.
In Florida, many firms are offering so-called deferred-delivery contracts. This entails a buyer's sending in funds for the purchase of gold coins at the spot price of gold. Delivery of the gold is promised in 12 to 15 weeks. The investment firm then hopes to reinvest the funds to make enough money to cover the difference between the spot price and the retail price of gold coins. Gold coin dealers, for example, pay 3.5 percent over the spot price of gold to buy their coins. If they sell them at the lower spot price, one observer says, they have to get a 20 percent return on their money to make up the difference between their selling income and buying costs. Mr. Tackeff says, ''In my opinion there is something fishy about this.''
In some cases, says Thomas Loughran, director of the Division of Enforcement at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, there has been some funny business. The commission is currently litigating a boatload of cases involving deferred delivery of precious or strategic metals. Mr. Loughran says the main goal is to shut down the trading of off-the-exchange options on gold. In other words, some deferred-delivery deals may actually be an option -- an agreement to buy a commodity at an agreed-upon price at a later date, a risky enterprise.
In the past three years, Mr. Loughran points out, the commission has shut down more than 100 firms offering non-exchange options. Some $3.5 million has been placed in receivership for customers who have been bilked.
The stock market consolidated its gains through most of last week. The Dow Jones industrial average gained .48 points for the week, closing at 843.42. Analysts said investors had pulled back some because of the Falklands Islands crisis and some concern about the money supply numbers in April. But Newton Zinder, technical analyst at E.F. Hutton noted, ''All in all it wasn't a bad showing.'' Mr. Zinder says the Dow may pull back to the 820-to-830 level before heading upward again. IBM and RCA were both active last week after the companies reported earnings gains higher than most analysts expected.