It's been a while since we've done a post on Silver. Since the big take down at the start of May, Silver has hovered at the $35 mark and the COMEX supplies of phyisical Silver have continued to diminish as the disconnect between the paper market and the Silver market intensifies.
What is the significance of this discord between paper and physical supply on the Comex? Recall, that over 800 million ounces traded each day in April on that market. Further, consider that as at the end of April there were only 33 million ounces of registered inventories to back up all of that paper trading. Just imagine if a mere 5% of all of that buying actually stood for delivery; the entire inventories would be more than wiped out. Yet despite the steady erosion of these already scant Comex inventories - a characteristic which would surely be interpreted as most bullish in other commodity markets - the price of silver has actually declined since April. We endeavour to provide a framework for understanding this phenomenon below.
Those who were following the developments in the silver market in April and May (we note that there were many who were) will likely recall that the CME Group raised both initial and maintenance margins five times within less than a two week span effectively raising the minimum amount of capital required to participate in the silver futures market by 84%. This is significant due to the amount of leverage in the futures market and also due to the losses resulting from the precipitous selloff which began on Sunday, May 1st, when several thousand contracts were wantonly dumped onto the very thinly traded after-hours silver futures market causing the silver price to plunge 13% within the span of less than 15 minutes.
For example, consider a hypothetical speculative trader who went long, say 200 July 2011 SI futures contracts on April 28th. At that time this trader would have been required to post an initial margin of $2.565 million for a position of one million ounces of "silver" and thus would have been levered 18.5 times1. Below we present what the trade blotter for this trader might look like over the next few days assuming he maintained his position.
Another piece of information gleaned from the COT data is that despite what many commentators were hailing as a bubble caused by excessive speculation in the futures markets, the net speculative long positions had in fact been dropping over time. Even during the April run up preceding the five margin hikes, the net speculative long position actually decreased by 23%.
That commercial short position deserves further mention. What is unique and of interest to many silver market observers is not only the size of the short position on the Comex, which is dominated by those "commercials", but also the concentration of the short interest. We provide the percentage of the total open interest held by the four largest short sellers on a net basis in the table above. Note that the net position of the four largest equates to 29% of the total open interest as of May 17th. Further we would also note that the concentrated short interest of the big four, though still quite high has actually dropped substantially over the past year coinciding with the signing of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the resultant public discourse on position limits. Comments from CFTC commissioner Bart Chilton acknowledging the "repeated attempts to influence prices in the silver markets," and that, "violations to the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) have taken place in silver markets and that any such violation of the law in this regard should be prosecuted," perhaps have also had an impact on the behavior of silver market participants. And though the CFTC’s investigation into the silver futures and options market remains open after three years, we remain hopeful that its findings will further serve the interests of the investing public who rightly expect a fair and transparent silver market void of manipulative forces.
Could the drop in open interest and the reduction of the concentration in the commercial short open interest be perceived as an indication that those top four short-sellers are positioning for the inevitable imposition of position limits rules? Perhaps, and if so, it would follow that likely the short sellers seized the opportunity to further reduce their "liabilities" by buying up contracts in early May at a 30% discount.
Let there be no mistake, we view the current setup as extremely bullish. In our view, whatever froth and excess was present in the paper markets has likely been shaken out in the recent selloff. The remaining longs do not seem willing to part with their silver at these prices. These are the strong hands with longer time horizons that are likely not overly leveraged or are willing and able to withstand substantial volatility. Moreover, perhaps the "game" on the paper silver markets which has been meticulously documented over decades by Ted Butler14 and others, will soon be coming to an end.
What is perhaps most important is that despite what has recently transpired in the paper silver markets, the robust demand fundamentals for silver have not changed in our view. For confirmation of this, look no further than the physical silver market (i.e. the real silver market) which is providing us with evidence almost daily of a sustained bull market for physical silver. The US Mint recently stated that, "demand for American Silver Eagle Coins remains at unprecedented high levels." Likewise for the Perth Mint, the Austrian Mint and the Royal Canadian Mint as well. The Chinese, who were net exporters of silver only four years ago, imported 300% more silver in 2010 than 2009 and such large quantities of imports are expected to continue. Last year, Indian silver imports increased nearly six-fold, and this year consumption is expected to rise nearly 43% according to the Bombay Bullion Association. In Utah, silver (along with gold, of course) will now be accepted in weight value as legal tender. According to Hugo Salinas-Price, a prominent Mexican billionaire, there is now "very strong support for the monetization of silver" in the Mexican congress. We suspect the Europeans are likely to account for an increasing amount of silver purchases going forward as well. In fact, we just can’t imagine a better outlook for silver fundamentals. This really makes us question who could be short such massive quantities of silver and why? Particularly in those leveraged paper silver markets, where as we demonstrated, only a fraction of the outstanding notional ounces are actually available in physical quantity.
We have a very tough time understanding those bearish arguments against silver. We look at the real silver market, and based on the supply and demand data coming from the real, physical markets for silver, the fundamentals are only getting stronger.
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