As stamp markets go, Japan is of interest for a number of reasons. It is a mature market in a prosperous country where demographics favor growth in stamp collecting. Japan has demographically aged faster than almost any other country, but its retired population is economically well off, for the moment. I mention this caution because that country is in a dire economic situation which the current Abe government is determined to correct through, among other measures, a debasement of the currency. In the last year the Japanese Yen has declined from 100 to 124 Yen to the dollar. It was as high as 75 to the dollar not so long before that. This can be unsettling to a retired population who have lived through some hard years during and after WWII. While the country has a vibrant stock market, a majority of retires have built up their retirement funds through postal savings accounts that pay very low interest. I mention this to demonstrate that savers in Japan are not into stocks the way we are. Could postage stamps become another investment choice for these retirees? The price movement in stamps seems to indicate that this is beginning to happen.
An analysis of stamp prices both here and in Japan indicates that, while values moved very little in the period 2005 to 2010, the last five years have seen a major shift. In Investment quality stamps some 238 mint stamps saw prices rise 11.0% in the 2005-10 period and 15.2% in the 2010-2015 period. This for a value universe of $133,000. The top 50 stamps with a value of $53,000, saw more dramatic rises of 18.9% and 35.6% respectively. This translates into a 61.3% rise over the ten years. Used stamps had comparable results.
The downward movement of the Japanese Yen should have dampened these statistics, which were done off dollar pricing, but such has not been the case. As can be seen from the table here, Japanese Yen pricing continue to be substantially above that in the USA. The tabulation was made when the Yen was 100. A new catalog for 2016 has been issued by the Japanese Stamp Dealers Association (JDSA) in July, but was not available for consideration here. What will be of interest is to what extent the new pricing reflects the deterioration of the Yen. In any case, for the Japanese collector it means what he owns is rising nicely in value. Hence, he can see stamps as a better alternative than his postal savings account, if not more interesting as well. It's a lot more interesting and fun to speculate in postage stamps and their history than what the economic prospects are for Toyota or Honda stock.
It would not surprise me to see Japanese stamps continue a steady rise of 4% to 5% a year in dollar terms, driven by the continued deterioration of the Yen and rising inflation. There are few truly high priced stamps for Japan unless you get into the syllabic character varieties which is probably of little interest outside of Japan. Investment potential is limited for non-Japanese speakers as the local catalogs offer little translation help.
We shall continue to watch the Japanese market because it is a model of what we can expect to happen here in the US. Our demographics and economy are proceeding down the same road, so I expect US stamps will mirror what happens there.
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