Investors turn to stamps as a way to lick credit crunch

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Investors spooked by falling stock markets, plunging house prices and concerns about the security of their cash savings have found a new safe haven in postage stamps, Stanley Gibbons, the world's largest philatelic dealer, claimed yesterday.

Announcing first-half profits of £1.9m, an 11 per cent increase on the same period last year, Martin Bralsford, chairman of Stanley Gibbons, said investors were increasingly attracted to stamps and other collectibles. "The benefits of investing in collectibles as an alternative asset have never been clearer," Mr Bralsford said. "The prices of rare stamps show no correlation with the stock market, property prices and other traditional forms of investment, and historically collectibles have increased the most in times of high inflation."

Founded in 1856, Stanley Gibbons began as a specialist dealer for collectors, but also now runs a successful unit aimed specifically at investors buying and selling stamps as tradable assets. The company also owns Fraser's Autographs, which specialises in dealing in sought-after signatures, another area where it has seen strong growth.

There is some evidence to support Mr Bralsford's claims for the appeal of stamps as a safe haven. The GB30 Rarities Stamp Index, an index of the value of 30 of the rarest stamps in the world, has risen 39 per cent over the past 12 months, seemingly oblivious to the global credit crunch.

The index has also performed well over the longer term, with an average annual return of 10.7 per cent over the past 10 years. Indeed, stamp prices have proved remarkably resilient to economic woes, producing positive returns in even the most difficult of financial climates.

The wider SG100 index, which tracks the value of the 100 stamps most commonly traded, has also performed strongly, gaining almost 60 per cent since the turn of the century.

Moreover, stamps have additional attractions not offered by other more trad-itional safe haven assets. Unlike gold, for example, even a sizeable collection of valuable stamps is easily transported – one reason why several leading Nazis fleeing Germany after the Second World War chose to smuggle wealth in the form of rare stamps. Such collections also need less careful storage than many other assets. Mr Bralsford said demand for stamps had increased around the world.

Nevertheless, more straightlaced investment experts urged caution. "With all alternative investments, whether it is stamps or fine art or classic cars, it can be very difficult to accurately value the assets, or to be sure that you'll be able to sell at a time of your choosing," said Ben Yearsley, head of investment at independent financial adviser Hargreaves Lansdown. "The link between these asset classes and the stock market may also be more direct than you think, because buyers of alternative investments, especially at the top-end, are more often than not spending City bonuses."