How To Play a Comex Default
This week's interview with gold dealer Tom Cloud of National Numismatic Associates comes as precious metals are correcting and rumors are swirling around Comex silver.
Dollar Collapse: Hi Tom. It's been an interesting couple of days for silver, with a big Comex draw-down being followed by a sizable price drop. If the silver market wasn't so obviously free and honest, it might be tempting to suspect some kind of manipulation...
Tom Cloud: Late Friday afternoon a big client of JP Morgan requested delivery of 3.6 million ounces, which is 17% of all the registered inventory of silver (assuming it's all really there). But only 1.6 million ounces were reported moved. A lot of people are asking where the rest of it is. If it wasn't immediately available and the client allowed JP Morgan to move it in pieces, that's another sign of very tight supply.
Ordinarily seeing that much silver inventory move would make the price go up, but at the same time they - probably the same people -- were buying shorts to drive the market down late in the day when trading was slow.
DC: The size of the silver draw-down raises the question of what happens if a few more big players want to turn their futures contracts into physical metal. Would this cause a delivery disruption or outright default on the Comex?
TC: Somebody stepped up and said 'no more paper for me; it's time to get the real thing in my name.' They've played the [paper silver] game and benefited from it and now they want their silver. But not everyone can do that. There is 100 times as much silver paper [in the form of futures contracts] as there is physical, which means a lot more people think they own silver than there is silver in the world. At some point someone will be left out. If 17% of Comex inventory is taken out in one move, then you don't need that many more big players to take delivery to see this thing fall apart.
A lot of people were already worried about this, and what happened Friday certainly raises the odds that others with paper claims are going to ask for physical. This morning I'm seeing a lot of dealers buying a lot of silver for their own inventories. This is a very scary situation.
DC: Has an exchange ever defaulted on a commodity?
TC: I don't know of one that has completely defaulted, where they drain their warehouses of product. So it would be a huge event. And the picture for gold, though not as urgent as silver, is also pretty tight, with futures contracts far exceeding available physical.
DC: So what does the prospect of a Comex default mean for precious metals investors? How can we play it?
TC: Only gold bars from major fabricators like ScotiaMocatta and Johnson Matthey can be used to settle a Comex futures contract. That is, they're approved for future delivery. When the shortage hits, if you're holding one of these bars the premium is going to shoot straight up, so in addition to a higher spot price you'll make money on the wider premiums. Because of this, a lot of my larger investors buy Comex bars exclusively instead of coins.
There are now ten different mints producing Comex gold bars. Two years ago there were four. Comex is smart. They know it's gonna hit the fan and are now willing to approve other brands in order to increase their sources of metal. I don't think they'd be approving these other brands if they didn't expect a default. It's the same with silver. 24 months ago there were two approved fabricators, Johnson Matthey and Engelhard, making bars you could deliver on a futures contract. Today you've also got Ohio Precious Metals, Academy, and Royal Canadian mint.
But even in the absence of a Comex default, bars are cheaper than coins. They're not made by a country, but by large refineries, and because of this their premiums are lower. One exciting thing that happened this year is the introduction of one-ounce Comex silver bars from Johnson Matthey. The premium is $2 an ounce, which is about $0.75 an ounce more than for a 100-ounce bar. But it's a dollar an ounce cheaper than for a Silver Eagle coin, so they're selling very well.
DC: How do you store Comex bars once you've bought them?
TC: Several ways. You can take delivery of them and arrange your own storage. The newest state-of-the-art depository is Diamond State in New Haven, Delaware. They're tremendous. A buyer can arrange to have their bars shipped directly there, generally for free. They'll handle the paperwork and charge an annual storage fee. If you buy through us, we have a warehouse where customers can store their bullion for three years for free. It's allocated, so you own specific coins or bars, and it's all insured.