Silver has excellent and unchanged strong fundamentals but also the technical picture for silver is textbook bullish with a continuing series of higher highs and higher lows.
Silver remains one of the most under analysed and inaccurately analysed of all the commodity markets and this creates a huge opportunity for investors who are willing to do their own research and go against the herd. Silver remains the preserve of a tiny “hard asset” demographic and the majority of investors in the western world have not got a clue what silver is, how to invest in it and why one would invest in it, let alone what it’s price and price history is. The herd have not even considered silver yet. Incidentally the herd were wrong on the NASDAQ, on property and they will be wrong on assuming that this will be another short benign recession.
Most institutions have been bearish on silver since it was above $6 per ounce and continue to be as they fail to look at the big picture supply and demand and macroeconomic fundamentals.
Silver is currently trading at just above $18.00 per ounce. Gold Investments continue to believe that silver will surpass $25 per ounce in 2008. It will likely reach its non inflation adjusted high of $48.70 per ounce before 2012 and its inflation adjusted high (as many other commodities including oil already done) of some $130 per ounce in the next 8 years.
After healthy corrections, gold and silver are again table thumping buys. Indeed it could be argued that the fundamentals for gold and particularly silver have never been as bullish as they are today.
This is due to the myriad of real fundamental macroeconomic, systemic, geopolitical and geological factors all of which are combining into what will likely create price moves that will in time make the price moves of the 1970’s look small in comparison.
The fundamentals reasons for our very bullish outlook on silver is due to continuing and increasing global macroeconomic and geopolitical risks; silver’s historic role as money and a store of value; the declining and very small supply of silver; significant industrial demand and most importantly significant and increasing investment demand.
Silver price: Global Macroeconomic, Systemic and Geopolitical Risks
In recent times, there are so many financial events taking place and taking place at such speed that it is often easy to forget or not realise what is transpiring before our eyes and fail to see the wood from the trees.
A run on a bank, Northern Rock, with depositors lining up outside bank branches was seen in September last year. Northern Rock happened and – as Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker and George Soros and others have warned – we are now facing the greatest financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The macroeconomic climate is the most uncertain since the Great Depression and much of the western world faces the toxic combination of a virulent housing crash and credit and debt crisis and the spectre of soaring oil prices and stagflation.
Not only do we face unprecedented macroeconomic risk, we also face significant systemic risk. The IMF has warned that if another major bank fails (a la Bear Stearns) it could take down four or five of the world’s largest 15 banks with it. Obviously this has serious ramifications for the stability of the global financial system and the global economy.
Indeed these and other significant risks such as record debt levels in the western world, the huge and unprecedented US trade, budget and current account deficits and the massive fiscal profligacy of the Bush administration are not subsiding. These factors have ramifications for the predominant global reserve currency of recent times – the US dollar.
The U.S.’ national gross debt is $9,392,624,758,339.22trillion ($9.4 trillion) and growing rapidly. When George Bush came to power US’ national gross debt was $5.7 trillion. George Bush is set to be the most fiscally irresponsible President that the U.S. has ever had. Even the most sanguine, tunnel-visioned bull would have to admit that the fundamentals of the US economy are bad and deteriorating.
The monetary and fiscal authorities response to this crisis will dictate whether this degenerates into a deflationary depression like in the 1930’s or a serious and unprecedented stagflation or worse hyperinflation. Given the response in the U.S. to date, hyperinflation is even becoming a possibility for the world’s largest and most important economy. Competitive fiat currency devaluations look increasingly likely with obvious ramifications for paper assets such as equities and bonds and for fastly depreciating paper currencies.
Given the extent of the risks facing the global economy, even mining stocks may not be the “safe haven” they are touted as and may not give the returns promised as the threat of nationalisation will likely become a real one that will likely make many gold and silver mining stocks a risky proposition.
Other long term risks and challenges facing the global economy come in the form of the threats posed by a bird flu pandemic, peak oil, climate change and environmental destruction.
Silver Price: Historic Role as a Store of Value and Safe Haven
Because of their historic and continuing role as monetary or currency metals and as safe haven assets gold and especially silver are likely to outperform. This is because they are not simply commodities but also currencies which cannot be debased like our modern fiat paper and electronic currencies.
Gold and silver has been used as money in more regions and countries and for longer periods of time than the relatively modern use of paper currencies. Interestingly, silver has been used in more regions and countries and for longer periods of time as money than gold. Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, said of silver “The major monetary metal in history is silver, not gold.” In Mexico today, there is a movement to return to using silver as money with a bill being put before by the Mexican Congress by Hugo Salinas. The currency of India is the rupee and it comes from the Sanskrit word ‘raupya’ which meant silver or coin of silver. The French word for money is ‘argent’ which came from the Latin argentum meaning silver. The franc was established as the national currency by the French Revolutionary Convention in 1795 as a decimal unit (1 franc = 10 decimes = 100 centimes) of 4.5 g of fine silver.
Most countries in the world used silver for smaller denomination coins in the 19th Century and through the 20th Century up until the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when currencies were gradually debased. Debase means to degrade, dilute or devalue. For instance, in the U.S. up until 1965, silver dimes and quarters were made of 90% pure silver. In 1965, the U.S. government debased and devalued the currency and reduced the silver content to 40% pure silver. These legal tender silver bags are still bought today by savvy investors.
As are legal tender bullion coins. Indeed in the last month there have been reports of shortages of silver bullion coins (particularly silver eagles). A recent Wall Street Journal article (23/05/08) confirms that silver in smaller denominations is in very, and increasingly, short supply. As knowledge of shortages in the silver coin and small bar market enters the mainstream there will be powerful and possibly unprecedented demand for silver eagles and all forms of silver in smaller denominations in the coming weeks. If even a fraction of the world’s increasingly skittish investment capital flows into the silver market prices will rise to multiples of the current price.
Silver Price: Declining Supply
Before looking at the demand side of the silver equation it is important to consider the supply side.
In 1900 there were 12 billion ounces of silver in the world. By 1990, the internationally respected commodities-research firm CPM Group say that figure had been reduced to around 2.2 billion ounces. Today, that figure has fallen to about 300 million ounces in above ground refined silver. It is estimated that 95% of the silver ever mined has been consumed by the global photography, technology, medical, defence and electronic industries. This silver is gone forever.
CBS Marketwatch published an article in March 2007 entitled ‘Silver may shine brightest among metals’, in which Kevin Kerr wrote that “Due to current supply/demand trends, the amount of silver above ground is projected to shrink to a critically low level in 2010. As supply shrinks, prices will keep rising steadily to new highs. Many in the investment world are unaware of this part of silver’s story. Industrial demand has been outstripping mining supply for the past 15 years, driving above ground supply to historically low levels.”
While silver production is expected to be marginally higher this and next, it is important to note that the amount of mined silver has been less than its demand every single year for the last 15 years. The world was able to fill the gap from inventories and official government stockpiles.
However, today the U.S. government’s stockpile is all but gone, and sales from other official sources, such as China, Russia and India, are declining, too. The decline in refined silver stocks, from around 2.2 billion ounces in 1990 to between 300 and 500 million ounces today means that silver stocks are near an all time low.
The supply of silver is inelastic. Silver production will not ramp up significantly if the silver price goes up. Supply didn’t dramatically increase in the 1970s when silver rose 35 fold in price – from $1.40/oz in 1971 to a high of nearly $50/oz in 1980 (although there was an increase in silver scrap sales as some jewellery and ‘family silver’ was sold and recycled in the later 1970s). Importantly, silver is a byproduct metal and some 80% of mined silver is a byproduct of base metals. Higher prices for silver will not cause copper, nickel, zinc, lead or other base metal miners to increase their production. In the event of a global deflationary slowdown demand for base metals would likely fall thus further decreasing the supply of silver.
There are only a handful of pure silver mines remaining. This inflexible supply means that we cannot expect significant mine supply to depress the price after silver rises in price. It is extremely rare to find a good service, investment or commodity that is price inelastic in both supply and demand. This is another powerfully bullish aspect unique to silver.
Silver Price: Significant and Increasing Industrial Demand
Another important factor as to why silver is likely to outperform other asset classes and commodities besides the declining silver supply is increasing industrial demand.
Why is this indispensable metal in such demand? The reasons are simple. Silver has a number of unique properties including its strength, excellent malleability and ductility, its unparalleled electrical and thermal conductivity, its sensitivity to and high reflectance of light and the ability to endure extreme temperature ranges.
Silver has the highest electrical conductivity of all metals, even higher than copper. It was used in the electromagnets used for enriching uranium during World War II (mainly because of the wartime shortage of copper). Silver has the highest thermal conductivity and optical reflectivity of all metals. Silver’s unique properties restrict its substitution in most applications.
Non investment demand for silver is based primarily on industrial demand including electrical, medical and photography and also in jewellery and silverware. Together, these categories represent more than 95 percent of annual silver consumption. In 2005, 409.3 million ounces of silver were used for industrial applications, while over 164.8 million ounces of silver were committed to the photographic sector, and 249.6 million ounces were consumed in the jewellery and silverware (‘don’t sell the family silver’) markets. Jewellery and silverware are traditionally made from sterling silver. Sterling silver is 92.5 % silver, alloyed usually with copper.
Industrial applications for silver have always been significant but have increased significantly in recent years. Industrial applications for silver have increased since 2001 to a record in 2005, according to London-based researcher GFMS Ltd. In their most recent report, they predict a 6% growth rate in industrial applications of silver in 2007. Silver is used in film, mirrors, batteries, medical devices, electrical appliances such as fridges, toasters, washing machines and uses have expanded to include cell phones, flat-screen televisions and many other modern high tech devices.
Increasing industrial demand for silver is forecast due to strong economic growth in China, India, Vietnam, Russia, Brazil and other emerging economies in Eastern Europe, Asia and the world. Growing middle classes are now demanding the quality of life and standard of living enjoyed by many in the West and thus the demand for silver will increase.
Silver is known as the healthy metal and has many and increasing medical applications. While silver’s importance as a bactericide has been documented only since the late 1800s, its use in purification has been known throughout the ages. “Born with a silver spoon in his mouth” is also a reference to health as well as wealth. In the early 18th century, babies who were fed with silver spoons were healthier than those fed with spoons made from other metals, and silver pacifiers found wide use in America because of their beneficial health effects.
Today silver is used in many health-care products. Specifically, the ‘silver bullet’ is used by nearly every hospital in the world to prevent bacterial infections in burn victims and allow the body to restore naturally the burnt tissue. Increasingly, wound dressings and other wound care products incorporate a layer of fabric containing silver for prevention of secondary infections. Surgical gowns and draperies also include silver to prevent microbial transmission. Other medical products containing silver are catheters and stethoscope diaphragms.
In a world that is showing increasing concern about the spread of diseases and pandemics such as bird flu, silver is being increasingly tapped for its biocidal properties. Research is ongoing on the use of silver and its compounds for therapeutic uses and on its potential use as a disinfectant in hospitals and other medical facilities.
There is increasing speculation regarding the possible use of silver in catalytic converters. Mitsui Japan announced that they have developed a technology that could replace platinum with silver in vehicle autocatalysts. With palladium and platinum trading at over $50 and $2,100 per ounce respectively and silver at less than $20, substitution is very likely (especially with silver at 1% of the price of platinum).
Silver has many unique properties which make it ideal and indeed essential in global industry – especially in the global photography, technology, medical, defence and electronic industries. Yet, silver is a finite resource and the supply of silver is increasing only very incrementally.
Silver Price: Significant and Increasing Investment Demand
According to the CPM Group, there are some 300 million ounces of refined silver in the world. That means that with silver priced at $18/oz., there is about $5.4 billion (300 million oz x $18) dollars worth of silver in the world. Others have claimed there is some 500 million ounces. This means that the total silver market capitalisation is a very small – between $5.4 billion and $9 billion.
The increasing demand caused by investment demand is very compelling. Especially due to a number of key investment factors – the introduction of the iShares Silver ETF, the huge short position, the global liquidity bubble, the significant growth in the global money supply, the proliferation of millionaires, ultra high net worth individuals and billionaires, the proliferation of hedge funds and the exponential growth in derivatives.
Investment demand for silver has also been rising rapidly the past few years with investors hedging themselves against rising inflation, possible currency devaluations and geopolitical and macroeconomic risk.
Concerning silver’s fundamentals, CPM Group predicted a third consecutive year of net buying by investors in its “2008 Silver Yearbook,” with investors buying a projected 74.9 million ounces of silver. In 2008, total supply is projected to increase 3.9% to 815.1 million ounces, while fabrication demand will rise 2.2% to 740.2 million ounces.
The silver market is currently in a transitional period where investment demand is starting to have a real impact on silver prices. Much of the new demand comes from iShares Silver ETF launched in April 2006. The Silver ETF in London now (May 2008) has some 285 tonnes in trust. Barclays’s U.S. listed iShares Silver Trust now holds about 5,928 tonnes of silver, a rise of more than 25% in volume since the end of last year. From February to May, when ETFs Silver ETF lost 99 tonnes, iShares Silver Trust added 563 tonnes.
That means the Silver ETFs alone now account for nearly half of the global silver market, and growing investment into these ETFs should drive prices much higher. If even a small amount of money flows into the silver market from investors, ultra high net worth individuals (ultra-HNWIs), hedge funds, pension funds and institutions around the world, silver will almost certainly reach the nominal non inflation adjusted high it reached in 1980 of nearly $50 per ounce.
Huge Short Position
Perhaps the foremost analyst of the silver market today is Mr Theodore Butler. He believes that gold and particularly silver are the laggards in the commodity complex due to price manipulation. At over 300 million ounces, the largest 8 traders on the COMEX are short much of the bullion that exists in total known world inventories, including total SLV holdings and total COMEX inventories.
Butler sums it up succinctly, ”If there is one thing that separates silver from any other asset class, or any other item in any asset class, it is the presence of an unprecedented concentrated short position in COMEX silver futures. It is the existence of this concentrated short position that will, at some point, launch the silver price to the heavens. This short position has grown so large, and is held by so few entities, that it no longer matters how it will be resolved. It must be resolved and, whether that resolution involves default or buying by short covering, it will have the same bullish impact on price. You don’t have to look any further than the concentrated COMEX short position as to why silver has not outperformed every other commodity. Just as it explains price under performance, it is telling you why there must be overperformance in the future. At some point, the price of silver must accelerate upward to price levels that are truly shocking.”
There is some $50 trillion worth of bonds and $40 trillion worth of paper money in the world.
Money supply is increasing at extremely high levels globally. The annualised growth of some national broad money supplies are United States M3 up 10%, Eurozone M3 up 9.0%, UK M4 up 13%, China M2 up 15.9%, South Korea up 10.6%, Australia M3 up 13%, Russia M2 up a staggering 48%.
This has given rise to increasing inflationary pressures, a huge liquidity bubble and bubbles in many stock and property markets.
Huge Increase in Billionaires, Multi Millionaires and High Net Worth Individuals
There has been an unprecedented increase in wealth amongst a tiny segment of the population in recent years. The number of millionaires in the world is multiplying very rapidly and there are now approximately 9 million millionaires in the world. There are approximately 70,000 ultra-HNWIs who have a net worth of more than $30 million.
Forbes recently estimated that there are now a record 946 billionaires in the world. In 2006, there were 178 new billionaires. These included 19 Russians, 14 Indians, 13 Chinese and 10 Spaniards, as well as the first billionaires from Cyprus, Oman, Romania and Serbia.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are worth some $51 billion and $40 billion respectively. One man’s net worth increased in one year by multiples of the total value of all silver in the world. Carlos Slim Helo, is a Mexican of Lebanese origin whose net worth increased from $20 billion in 2006 to almost $50 billion in 2007 or by some $30 billion.
All the billionaires’ combined net worth increased by $900 billion to reach $3.5 trillion. There are a total of 8.7 million millionaires around the world, representing a total wealth of a mind boggling $33.3 trillion. A trillion is an extremely large number and difficult for most to comprehend. It is one million million or 10 to the power of 12. It is an absolutely huge number and it is important to remain conscious of the sheer size of this number.
Conversely, the total value of all above ground stock of silver is a very small $4.2 billion.
If only a tiny fraction of these millionaires, ultra-HNWIs and billionaires decided to diversify out of their extensive property and stock portfolios and invest even a very small amount of their portfolios in silver it would result in the silver price increasing in price exponentially. Given the extremely strong investment fundamentals of silver this seems likely.
Globally, hedge funds’ speculative capital have doubled to more than $2 trillion (or two thousand billion) in the last three years. Some hedge funds have started moving into the silver market. Charles Supapodok of Artemis Capital Management is seeking to raise a $300 million hedge fund to invest mainly in silver. Artemis Silver Fund, advised by Artemis Capital Management, will put 80 percent of the fund’s holdings in silver.
Again due to the incredibly small size of the global silver market if even only a small percentage of the roughly 9,000 to 10,000 hedge funds in the world decide to take positions in the silver market the price will increase in value by multiples.
The Bank for International Settlements has estimated that the total value of derivatives contracts was $596 trillion at the end of April 2008 (up from $260 trillion in June 2006) and is increasing exponentially.
There is still a debate as to whether derivatives are a good or a bad thing. Ben Bernanke and most in the financial industry believes they are good as they create liquidity and help spread risk throughout the system. Greenspan was a little more sceptical and warned that they could create ‘moral hazard’ as they did when LTCM collapsed in 1998 sending shockwaves through the financial system. He also warned that they could lead to “cascading cross defaults.”
Warren Buffett is similarly not as sanguine: “Charlie [Munger] and I believe, however, that the macro picture is dangerous and getting more so. Large amounts of risk, particularly credit risk, have become concentrated in the hands of relatively few derivatives dealers, who in addition trade extensively with one other. The troubles of one could quickly infect the others. . . . Linkage, when it suddenly surfaces, can trigger serious systemic problems.”
“The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear. Knowledge of how dangerous they are has already permeated the electricity and gas businesses, in which the eruption of major troubles caused the use of derivatives to diminish dramatically. Elsewhere, however, the derivatives business continues to expand unchecked. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts.”
For this reason Buffett has called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction.”
The systemic and inflationary risk posed by the near infinite creation of hundreds of trillions of dollars of derivatives means that the finite currencies and safe haven assets of gold and silver are likely to be diversified into increasingly.
If only a tiny fraction of the humongous derivatives market was to reallocated into the silver market, silver would increase in value exponentially.
Silver’s Price History
Silver remains historically undervalued. Despite the incredibly bullish fundamentals outlined silver has so far underperformed nearly all the other commodities. Silver has gone from below $5 to some $18 and is up some 260% in the last 8 years.
This seems like a lot but when compared to other commodities and metals it is very little.
Oil is up from $10 a barrel in 1999 to $133 a barrel today or 1,300% and more than 13 fold. Similarly, uranium was up a phenomenal 1300% or 13 fold (from $10 to $130) but is now at $65 per pound.
While many base metals have corrected from record highs in recent months, they are still up very significantly in recent years. Zinc from $.35 to a high of $2.00,. now $1.50/lb or nearly 5 fold. Copper, from $.75 to a high of $4.00, now $3.80/lb or nearly 5 fold. Lead from $.40 to $2.10/lb or nearly 5 fold. Nickel from $5 to $25/lb or some 5 fold.
Indium, molybdenum, selenium and cobalt are all up 1000% or 10 fold and more.
Rhodium, the platinum group metal, is up from $440 to $9,319 per ounce today or 2,100% or 21 fold in just 5 years.
Many commodities are up between 5 and 13 fold. Silver is not even up 4 fold. If silver were to catch up with these other less rare and less precious metals, it would have to increase in value significantly.
Silver reached $50 briefly in 1980 when just one billionaire Bunker Hunt (one of a handful of billionaires in the 1970s) attempted to corner the silver market causing the price to surge (in conjunction with many investors seeking to hedge themselves from the stagflationary 1970s). Today there are hundreds of billionaires throughout the world. A lot of technical orientated analysts, investors and hedge funds are looking at this figure and as nearly all the other asset classes and commodities are all at or recently reached all time records there is every reason that silver will do likewise in the coming years.
Silver is priced at some $18/oz today. The average price of silver in 1979 and 1980 was $21.80/oz and $16.39/oz respectively. In today’s dollars and adjusted for inflation (government historically adjusted CPI) that would equate to an inflation adjusted average price of some $60 and $44. It is for this reason that we believe silver will be valued at well over $50 in the next 3 to 5 years.
Why Silver Remains the Investment Opportunity of a Lifetime
Finally, it is important to put today’s total value of all above ground refined silver in the entire world – between $5.4 billion and $9 billion – in context.
$4 billion worth of Boeing planes was bought by Ryanair in 2005. $4 billion was the cost of stamp duty tax on Irish property in 2006. €8 billion worth of overseas commercial property was bought by Irish investors in 2006. Scottish Ministers are in charge of £2 billion (some $4 billion) of tax revenues. Macquarie, the Australian bank, recently acquired the O2 Airwave police radio business for £2 billion. The 2006 Sunday Times Rich List UK estimated that there were 20 people with a minimum wealth of £2 billion (some $4 billion) residing in the UK.
Further context is provided in the fact that the actor Will Smith has had a worldwide career box office of $4.4 billion. Microsoft is growing revenues at over $4 billion a year. In March and April of 2007, just two months, one man’s wealth increased by $4 billion. Since Forbes calculated its 2007 wealth rankings, they recalculated that in two months the Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim’s fortune rose $4 billion to $53.1 billion.
Recently Barclays Plc, the UK’s third-biggest bank, had its stock rating lowered to “reduce” by Dresdner Kleinwort, which said the company may raise 3 billion pounds ($5.9 billion) in a share sale to shore up capital and write down a further 3 billion pounds.
Rarely are there ‘no brainers’ in life and very rarely are there ‘no brainer’ investment opportunities. Invariably, ‘too good to be true’ investments turn out to be just that.
However, this is not the case with silver. It remains the investment opportunity of a lifetime.
Silver is unique in terms of being both a monetary and an industrial metal and having the highest optical reflectivity and the highest thermal and electrical conductivity amongst all metals. Silver industrial and particularly investment demand is increasing very significantly and meanwhile supply is falling. The fact that the huge majority of the investment public and financial services industry remains ignorant of the fundamentals in silver means that the bull market in silver remains in its early stages. Silver remains probably the most undervalued investment in the world.
How to Speculate in Silver
• Silver options and futures
• Silver ETF
• Silver mining stocks
• Spread bet silver
How to Invest in Silver with Gold Investments
• Perth Mint Government Silver Certificates (Allocated and Unallocated)
• Allocated Silver in Via Mat Zurich
• 1000 troy oz bars – (weigh some 31 kgs) These bars are COMEX good delivery bars
• 100 troy oz bars – (weigh some 3.11 kgs) These bars are among the most popular with retail investors. Popular brands are Engelhard and Johnson Matthey
• 90% Silver Bags
• 40% Silver Bags
(Pre-1970 U.S. Legal Tender 90% and 40% Silver Bags of coins, which were used as money until they were replaced by the precious metal free coinage introduced in 1970 and used today. Bags of U.S. dimes, quarters, half-dollars containing 90% silver or 40% silver are traded based on their precious metal silver weight. They are Legal Tender silver which means no VAT is applicable in most jurisdictions as these coins are considered money or monetary instruments)
• Silver Maple Leafs, 1 ozt. (legal tender silver which means no VAT is applicable in most jurisdictions as these coins are considered money or monetary instruments)
• Silver Eagles, 1 ozt. (legal tender silver which means no VAT is applicable in most jurisdictions as these coins are considered money or monetary instruments)
Mark O’Byrne is the Executive Director of Gold and Silver Investments Limited, Asset Diversification and Wealth Preservation Specialists. He is regularly quoted and writes in the financial media and was awarded Ireland’s prestigious Money Mate and Investor Magazine Financial Analyst of 2006.