American Wealth Declines

The Federal Reserve issues a triennial revue of the net worth of Americans and the results for 2001-2010 are what you would expect-down- overall about 30%. Stock market values were steady over the decade but what caused most American families to lose net worth in the period was a substantial decline in home values which, for most of us, represents our greatest asset. This is not news. It just quantifies what we have all known for a long time. Most of us are poorer than we were and it doesn’t seem to be getting better quickly. All sides agree on the diagnosis. The treatment plan is a bit more contentious.

But there is one silver lining in this cloud if you are a stamp collector. The value of  many types of stamps has remained steady throughout the period and the value of some philatelic material has increased and even soared. Ordinary mint United States postage type material is about the same over the decade, selling at about 70% of postage value both at the beginning and end. No gain isn’t great but it isn’t a loss and, when most other asset classes are careening, steady seems fine. But postage is the bad philatelic news. Fine quality US and Foreign stamps are up 20-30% for the decade, unspectacular growth but far better than your home. And if you were fortunate enough to enter the China market, well , many of those stamps are up ten times. All in all stamps have been what they usually are-steady performers, unglamourous when the stock and housing markets are hot, but well worth having in times like now.

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