Goldline International


Goldline International
Goldline International, Inc.
Type Private company
Genre Gold and precious metals trading company
Headquarters Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Area served United States and Canada
Key people Mark Albarian (Executive Chairman of the Board)
Scott Carter (CEO)
Robert Fazio (President)
Joseph Ozaki (COO & CFO)
Brian Crumbaker (EVP)
Website Goldline.com

Goldline International, Inc. is a retail seller of gold and silver coins, and other precious metals for investors and collectors.[1] Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, Goldline has more than 350 employees and an estimated $737 million in 2010 revenues.[2]

Goldline traces its formation to a Deak & Co. subsidiary created in 1960, a firm that in the late 1970s was the largest storefront gold retailer and later went into bankruptcy in the 1980s. The company was later bought and sold several times in the ensuing years. In 1992, Mark Albarian, Robert Fazio and Joseph Ozaki became key executives of Goldline, then a subsidiary of A-Mark.

Goldline advertises on several television channels and also sponsors some of the more popular conservative radio talk shows.

Goldline has been criticized for some aspect of its sales tactics, charges the company denies. On November 1, 2011 Santa Monica City Attorney's Office charged Goldline International executives with 19 counts of theft and fraud.[3]

Contents

Business operations

Overview

Goldline is a retail seller of gold coins, silver coins, platinum, bullion bars and bullion coins, special collections, currencies, and other precious metals for investors and collectors.[1] According to the Los Angeles Business Journal, in 2009, Goldline had more than 300 employees and sales revenue of $825 million which the newspaper said made it the "6th fastest growing company" in Los Angeles County, California for 2010 [4] [5] David Lazarus, the business columnist for the Los Angeles Times, said revenues are expected to climb to $1 billion dollars in 2010/2011.[6] Goldline International is not accredited with the Better Business Bureau and there are 72 closed complaints against the company over the last three years. [7]

Marketing

Goldline advertises through a variety of marketing channels including the Internet, radio, and television. Former Director of the United States Mint and Democratic Congressman Jay W. Johnson was Goldline's television spokesperson from June 2009 until his death in October of that same year.[8] John Mercanti, the retired 12th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, is a current Goldline spokesperson. [9] Goldline's television advertising includes cable networks such as CNN, CNBC, Fox News, History International and Fox Business.

Goldline also sponsors the shows of a number of conservative radio and television hosts, including The American Advisor, and The Glenn Beck Program,[10] The Laura Ingraham Show, The Fred Thompson Show,[11] The Huckabee Report,[12] The Lars Larson Show, The Monica Crowley Show, The Mark Levin Show, and The Alan Colmes Show..[13][14]

In 2010, then Congressman New York Representative Anthony Weiner criticized the advertising relationship between Goldline and these commentators, though Goldline officials maintain there is nothing improper about these relationships. [14]

In 2009, Goldline incorrectly labeled Glenn Beck as a "paid spokesman" on its website which raised concerns with his employer, Fox News, which prohibit such a relationship; they later corrected it to "radio sponsor".[13] Goldline's then- CEO Mark Albarian has appeared on Beck's radio show, the company was the exclusive sponsor of Beck's 2009 comedy tour. Prior to his Fox News employment, Beck had appeared in a Goldline website video.[13] The late night satirical television program The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has skewered the relationship,[13][15] and in 2010 some alleged that there is a conflict of interest which both Beck and Goldline deny.[13][10][16][14][17][18][19]

Business policies

Sales

The company sells over the phone, via Internet, and in person to customers responding to an advertisement. It also calls past customers when new collectibles arrive but does not cold call.[6][20] Purchases are made by check or wire transfer.[21]

Prices

Price of 1 troy ounce (31 g) of gold since 1960 in nominal US-Dollars and inflation adjusted by Consumer Price Index CPI-U.

The spread is the difference between Goldline's price for an item and how much Goldline will buy it back from the customer — the bid and ask prices. For instance, if Goldline sells a coin containing an ounce of gold for $1,500 and will buy it back for $1,200, the spread is $300. Calculated as a percentage, the spread would be 25% (100 X $300 / $1,200). On their website, they state their spreads are generally 5-20% for bullion coins (typically .999 pure gold) and 30-35% for all other coins.[22] Albarian told The New York Times they range from as low as 5% for bullion coins and as high as 54% for unusual and historical coins.[23]

The markup is the difference between Goldline's price for an item and the coin's melt value — the market price of its metal content. Using the same example as above, if Goldline sells a coin containing an ounce of gold for $1,500 and the price of gold that day is $1,000 per ounce, then the coin's melt value is $1,000, and the markup is $500. Calculated as a percentage, the markup would be 50% (100 X $500 / $1,000). The markup, also called the premium, is a common way to list gold bullion and coin prices.[24][25]

New York Representative Anthony Weiner accused Goldline of overcharging with average markups of 90% to 152%.[16][14][23][17][18][26] Dylan Ratigan, a television financial commentator, said that because Goldline is selling gold at 90% more than one could buy it on a gold exchange-traded fund, it would be a "dumb" purchase. He went on to characterize Beck and Goldline as "largely snake oil salesman and scumbags trying to create money for themselves" by "fear mongering" at the buyer's expense. [27]

Buy-back

The law does not allow precious metal dealers, such as Goldline, to guarantee a buy-back. The customer will pay a 1% liquidation fee on the bid price of the coin (the price Goldline is willing to buy back the coin before discounting for the fee). For example, if Goldline sells a coin for $1,500 and their bid price is $1,200, the seller would receive $1,188 ($1,200 - $12).[22] Goldline will consider purchasing coins sold by other companies but generally their offer will be less than equivalent coins originally sold by them.[22]

Price guarantee program

Goldline offers a "price guarantee program": if the price of selected coins (not bullion) declines within two weeks, the buyer may request the difference be used to purchase coins of the same type (not a refund).[28] However, this can only be done once in the two week period; therefore, If the price decreases further, the buyer will not get the difference. Similarly, if a buyer purchased a coin for $100 and Goldline's price decreased to $90 on day 7 but increased again to $95 on day 14, and the buyer requested the difference on day 14 instead of day 7, the amount would be $5.[28]

Investment advice

Goldline sales staff are not legally allowed to provide investment advice; if they did, they would be subject to regulations by the Security and Exchange Commission and state regulators. [14] [29] [30]

However, in a July 2010 article [31], Consumer Reports reported that a Goldline sales rep advised one of its reporters liquidate their IRA and retirement account in order to have 20% of their portfolio in gold.[32] Additionally, in an October 2006 consent order, Goldline voluntarily agreed to return $217,000.00 to a Missouri elderly couple in exchange for the products purchased for the company after the Missouri Securities Division alleged that the couple was pressured by a Goldline salesperson to liquidate all their investments and put them into gold. The Missouri Secretary of State Securities Division investigated and alleged that the company's agent was acting as an unregistered investment advisor, but the consent order did not judge whether the accusation was true or false.[33]

Goldline recommends that the buyer invest no more than 5-20% of their portfolio in precious metals while Consumer Reports recommends 5-10%. Goldline recommends holding their products for at least three to ten years.

Government and private gold

Executive Order 6102

In its sales literature, Goldline draws a distinction between what it calls "government gold" and "private gold."[22] During the Great Depression, in order to stabilize the dollar then backed by gold and to avoid a run on the banks, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a 1933 executive order requiring citizens to surrender their gold for which they were reimbursed at a price set by the government itself. [21][34] Though confiscation is generally defined as legal seizure without compensation,[21] in this case it refers to forcible seizure with compensation determined by the seizing authority in a form that was undesirable to the original owners of the gold. In its sales literature, Goldline states that "private gold" (defined as coins that were explicitly exempted from the 1933 order because of their collector value)[35]) would be less likely to be included if the government followed the precedent set by Roosevelt, thereby possibly increasing the desirability of collector-grade coins.[22]

The Roosevelt order resulted in only one failed prosecution, and the dollar is no longer backed by gold thereby putting into question why the government would again ask for its surrender.[21][34] Rep. Weiner has expressed doubt of the likelihood of a future confiscation and the American Numismatic Association said it was "a non issue".[19][21][36] The Santa Monica and L.A. County investigators alleged that the distinction is used to spur the sale of the more-profitable collectible coins.[19] While Goldline-sponsored Glenn Beck encouraged the purchase of collectible coins due to the possibility of future "confiscation," he also made clear that rare collectible coins are "the most expensive way you can buy gold".[19][36][37]

Goldline includes a replica of the 1933 order in their sales material.[38][39] When asked about this by George Stephanopolous on ABC's Good Morning America,[40] Scott Carter, the Executive Vice President of Goldline, said he didn't know if the government would again "confiscate" bullion but some saw a parallel between 2010 and 1933.[41]

Goldline says that “private gold” does not require a person's Social Security number (SSN) when the seller liquidates, whereas many of the “government gold” products would require one.[22] While this allows customers to sell anonymously, Goldline also notes that customers are required to report the sale to the Internal Revenue Service.[21]

Collectible coins versus bullion

American Gold Eagle

Because of collectible coins' higher markups and mention of past government confiscation of bullion in Goldline sales literature, Weiner accused the company of recommending rare collectible coins over less-profitable bullion. Some customers prefer collectibles because they are recognizable, government-issued coins, and may be less expensive.[42]

Goldline explained collectibles have a greater markup due to their relative rarity, costs of shipping and handling, paying the sales staff, and the company's compliance department.[43] Additionally, customers are given complete information before purchasing, "pricing is transparent", "fees and commissions are disclosed in writing", and all complaints are investigated. They also offer a "price guarantee program" (see Goldline's price guarantee for details).[19][22][28][44][45]

However, ABC reported the sales staff are encouraged to promote coins over bullion.[19] ABC gave an account of a customer pressured into buying $5,000.00 of such coins which a dealer later told him were worth only $2,900.00.[19][46] Another purchased $13,000.00 of "overpriced Swiss gold coins" in 2007 — while the price of gold doubled, the coins were only worth $10,764 in 2010, leaving her feeling "suckered".[19][47][48] Consumer Reports noted that Goldline was selling a Gold Eagle set for $5,924.63 while a competitor had them for $3,295.00.[36] However, they went on to say that Goldline's bullion prices were competitive.[36]

History

1/20 ounce gold coin with Nicholas L. Deak's likeness issued by Deak & Co. in 1980

Goldline traces its corporate history to Deak Investor Services, Inc. formed in 1960 by Nicholas L. Deak of Deak & Co.[49][50] Nicholas Deak, a Hungarian immigrant, founded Deak & Co. in 1939 and served in the OSS (precursor to the CIA) during World War II.[51][52] Deak & Co. specialized in foreign exchange, gold coins and bullion, and was considered a pioneer in the business.[51]

By the early 1980s, the company was the largest retailer of gold bullion and the oldest and largest retail foreign exchange dealer in the United States.[53][54] While Deak described himself as a gold bug,[55] the company felt the strain of growing too rapidly during the gold economic bubble which burst by 1982.[54] At that point, they planned on expanding into the wholesale market, offering services to companies instead of the public.[54] The company was the country's leading seller of South Africa's Krugerrand before it was pressured to halt sales because of South Africa's apartheid system in 1985.[51][56][57][58]

In 1984, Deak & Co. faced allegations from the President's Commission on Organized Crime that they laundered money for Latin American drug traffickers, facilitated the Lockheed bribery scandals, and smuggled currency from the Philippines.[59][60][61][62] As a result, shortly thereafter, Deak & Co. declared bankruptcy in order to reorganize.[59][63] In 1985, the company was purchased by a Singapore lawyer for $52 million — the most valued asset was Deak's Swiss bank.[64][65] In 1986, the foreign exchange and gold business was sold to Australia's Martin Properties Ltd. (later renamed Deak Morgan[66]) for $12 million.[67][68][69] In the following year, the company was transferred to New Zealand based NZI and expanded its gold coin dealerships by one-third.[70] At the same time, Deak Investor Services, Inc. changed its name to Deak International Goldline Ltd.[49]

Due to the 1987 worldwide market crash, the company floundered,[71] and was sold to the London-based Thomas Cook Group in August 1990 for $10–$12 million.[72][73] Several months afterward, Deak International Goldline (US) Ltd. was bought by A-Mark Precious Metals Inc, a wholesaler dealer in precious metals, thereby adding a retail presence.[49][74] In 1992, Deak International Goldline (US) Ltd. changed its name to Goldline International, Inc. and Mark Albarian became president. In 1994, Goldline acquired the assets of Gold & Silver Emporium,[49] and in 1998, acquired Dreyfus Precious Metals, Inc., the precious metal brokerage and storage subsidiary of the Dreyfus Corporation.[49]

CIVC Partners

In 2005, the A-Mark Corporation sold Goldline to three investor groups, each of which acquire minority stakes: Prudential Capital, Goldline management, and Goldline’s former chairman.[75][76] Two years later, Goldline moved its headquarters and trading floor across Santa Monica, California to offices at the Water Garden complex.[49] In 2009, CIVC, a Chicago-based private equity company, acquires controlling interest in Goldline by purchasing the stakes owned by Prudential Capital and Goldline’s former chairman. Goldline management also increases its stake. This transaction was worth over $50 million.[49][77][78]

Investigations and lawsuits

The cover of Representative Anthony Weiner's report "As Seen on TV: An Investigation of Goldline International"[14]

In addition to the 2006 Missouri investigation, New York Representative Anthony Weiner and Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush announced in July 2010 they will hold a hearing scheduled for the end of September[79] on Goldline's sales tactics[80] which Weiner, a liberal Democrat, has criticized

In September 2010, the Subcommittee on Energy, Commerce and Consumer Protection held a hearing on proposed legislation by then Congressman Anthony Weiner regarding mandatory disclosures for the sale of coins and precious metals. [80] As one of the largest precious metals retailers in the U.S., Goldline Executive Vice President Scott Carter (now CEO) was invited to testify at the hearing [81]. The Chairman of the Committee on Energy, Commerce and Consumer Protection attended as an ex officio member and stated at the outset of the hearing, “I also don't think it's appropriate to hold a hearing because this is a substance that's being advertised on Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow or anybody else.” Carter testified regarding Goldline’s sales practices and client policies as well as concerns about the proposed legislation. The former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection testified, “the best protection remains the common law principles that the Commission enforces. Goldline’s practices are entirely consistent with these principles.[82]” No action was taken on the proposed legislation following the subcommittee hearing. Weiner’s legislation never received a single co-sponsor in the House of Representatives and no Senator agreed to introduce similar legislation in the Senate. Weiner never attempted to move the legislation out of the subcommittee.

Goldline has indicated that Rep. Weiner's office never contacted them directly to discuss the matter when creating its report and ignored an offer to tour their facility. Glenn Beck attacked Weiner for using McCarthy-like attacks, saying he was assailing Goldine at the request of the Barack Obama administration, and Mark Levin called him “a grandstanding leftist".

At the same time, the offices of the Los Angeles County District Attorney and the Santa Monica City Attorney launched an investigation into Goldline and Superior Gold Group.ABC News reported that 100 customers from around the country had complained that the two firms misled them or received a different item than the one purchased. However the announcement didn’t distinguish between Goldline and Superior, thereby failing to specify how many complaints were against Goldline and how many were against Superior, a smaller firm with an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau [83]. In comparison, as of September 2010, the Better Business Bureau gave Goldline an A+ rating and had received few complaints.The Santa Monica City Attorney set up a website for lodging complaints at www.gold.smconsumer.org. In December, 2010, a Los Angeles County judge placed Superior Gold under receivership and froze the company’s assets [84]. On November 1, 2011 Santa Monica City Attorney's Office, led by consumer protection attorney Adam Radinsky, charged Goldline International with 19 counts of theft and fraud and accused the company of "[running] a bait and switch operation".[3]

See also

References

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