The real reason 2013 Silver Eagles hit an all-time high in January

The U.S. Mint probably isn’t the best gauge of market demand for silver. It’s too easily overwhelmed by demand, and that pushes sales forward into months when demand could otherwise have been low.

Because the silver investment market is so small, it’s particularly vulnerable to hype. That’s exactly what the commodities research firm CPM Group thinks is happening now as investors trumpet the “incredible” demand for silver coins in January. While the U.S. Mint did announce all-time sales records for 2013 silver eagles in January (with 7,498,000 coins sold), CPM Group argues that’s just a hold-over of pent-up demand from earlier in the winter.

“All of this talk about a shortage of silver is irrational and not supported by readily available market data,” CPM Group says in its latest report.

Specifically, the company cites worries over the Fiscal Cliff in November and December as driving up demand for American Eagles. Since the Mint sold-out of coins in both November and December, that demand rolled forward into January driving sales up to record levels.

CPM Group’s been painting a pretty bleak picture of silver prices going forward. The commodities research firm believes prices will head lower over the next decade (through 2022) rather than higher as most silver price prognosticators would have you believe.

I’m not ready to make that assumption, but there are lessons to be learned from CPM Group. Mainly that the U.S. Mint isn’t the best gauge of market demand for silver. It’s too easily overwhelmed by demand, and that pushes sales forward into months when demand could have otherwise been low.