Listen, Silver: We Need to Talk
I wrote to Silver last week, and she answered back. I'd like to share our correspondence with you.
Happy anniversary. It was on April 25, 2011 that you hit $49.80 per ounce in the New York spot market.
Today, three years later, you sell for around $20, nearly 60% less.
Is your bear market almost over-or are these low prices here to stay? Your price has lagged gold this year, so your normal volatility is lacking. How much longer will you be stuck?
Jeff Clark, silver investor
Here's her polite response:
Dear Mr. Clark,
I have good news for you. While some investors have lost interest in me and my price is at 2010 levels, things will soon change.
I put together this historical chart for you, and I hope you'll share it with your fellow silver investors. It shows every major bear market over the past four decades. The black line represents what's taken place from April 2011 through last Friday.
Of the seven prior bear markets, four lasted longer and three were shorter. Four declined less than today; two were about the same; and only one was significantly deeper.
If I were to match the two longest bear markets, my price would stay down until this October. If it matched the other two longer bear markets, it would end this summer.
Over the past 40 years, there has been no bear market that would extend my low past this October.
Or my low may already be in.
Either way, I think it's safe to say that I'm close to the end of my down cycle. In fact, the historical data say the opportunity to buy me at $20 or less will soon be unavailable.
Let me relay some other data to you that also signal current prices can't last too much longer.
The US Mint (Still) Can't Keep Up with Demand
The sharp drop in my price in 2013 unleashed a wave of pent-up demand for silver coins. Look at the response from investors.
The question this year is if those record levels could continue to be supported. The first quarter is over, so I can tell you the answer.
The US Mint sold 13,879,000 ounces of me in Q1, 2.4% less than the 14,223,000 sold in the first quarter last year. Here's the monthly breakdown:
January's 36% decline from the prior year looks big, but it's not what you think: the Mint didn't begin sales until the end of the second week of the month. The monthly total thus reflects only 2.5 weeks of sales.
And March sales were the fourth-biggest month ever. Add in April's sales figures and the US Mint is now on pace to exceed 2013 totals.
It's clear that your fellow investors think my price will go higher.
Silver ETFs Have Net Inflows (Again)
You might remember that silver ETFs' holdings were largely flat last year, unlike the mass exodus seen in gold funds. The pattern is continuing this year.
Holdings in my exchange-traded products (ETPs) have risen 3.5% year to date, an additional 17.5 million ounces. In fact, the net purchases by silver ETPs have totaled $354 million YTD, the largest influx of all commodity ETPs!
Meanwhile, gold-backed ETPs have seen sales of 500,000 ounces, about a 1% drop.
Jewelers Love Low Prices
Low prices for me have led to increased silver jewelry purchases.
As just one example, the UK reports that silver jewelry sales jumped 40.4% in February, to 351,791 items.
India Just Won't Stop Buying
India imported 5,500 tonnes of me last year, 180% more than 2012. Imports comprised 20% of all global demand.
Last month's silver imports were 250% lower. This was mostly due to the recent increase in import duties, and the fact that six banks got permission to import gold, which would soften purchases of me. This could partly explain why my price has struggled.
But as long as politicians keep gold restrictions in place, Indians will keep buying me.
China: More Silver for Solar
Chinese imports of me rose drastically in February, up by 75% month on month and 90% year on year to 358 tonnes, the highest since March 2011. Though lower the following month, March imports were up 16% year over year.
China's solar industry is growing explosively. In 2009, it represented about 0.2% of the global market; this year, it's estimated to be one-third.
It's interesting to note that my price rose in February and fell in March, which suggests that Chinese demand affects my price, too.
Supply Sources Are Concerning
So far, suppliers have managed to meet demand. However, there are dark clouds on the horizon.
- Very little excess supply is expected this year, as production is projected to remain flat, and demand for me shows no signs of letting up.
- Solar power accounted for 29% of added electricity capacity in America last year. "More solar has been installed in the US in the past 18 months than in 30 years," says the US Solar Energy Industries Association. "Eventually solar will become so large that there will be consequences everywhere."
- Supply from recycling will probably be weak, because it's not cost effective to recover every tiny bit of me from cellphones or prescription eyewear or casino chips. One report says that Americans threw away 130 million cellphones last year, containing over 46 tonnes of me.
- Several major base-metals mines are expected to be depleted over the next several years. The problem is that two-thirds of me is a byproduct from base-metals operations-if their output falls, there will be less of me, as well.
- The Silver Institute says that demand for industrial products made from me continues to grow.
As I look at your current situation from a historical perspective, I see a lot of catalysts that will catapult my price higher in the near future. It seems rather clear that as demand continues to grow, supply tightens, and my role as money grows more substantial, I will trade at much higher levels in just a few short years.
In fact, I offered to bet my cousin gold that I will outperform him before this cycle is over. He declined to take the bet.
The clock is ticking. Don't set yourself up for regret when my price leaves $20 in the dust.
P.S. Learn about the three best ways to invest in silver, where and when to buy physical silver, and how to find the best silver stocks, in the free 2014 Silver Investor's Guide.