2011 was both an amazing and disappointing year for silver investors. The most disappointed of all are those who bought in during the April highs, when silver almost reached $50. However, what these investors need to remember is that not too long ago, people were fretting over changes in prices of ten cents or less. Not too far down the road, the difference between $29 silver and $50 silver will also seem rather minimal.
A look at some of the fundamentals which underpin the silver market will help remind our readers why G.I. Metals DMCC holds that silver will ultimately outperform gold, and what type of highs we might eventually see in an inflationary – and not hyperinflationary – environment. With current levels of central bank intervention to solve sovereign debt problems, we expect to see more economic contraction for the first part of 2012, followed by even more excessive money printing which will lead to inflationary, and eventually hyperinflationary, conditions. This only requires a greater level of velocity to occur, along with a loss of confidence in the world reserve currency, which we expect will begin to happen when bond speculators’ attention is moved from Europe to America.
A revision of these fundamentals will also help remind us that physical ownership of silver should not be viewed as much as a short-term investment, but rather, a mid-term form of wealth preservation and growth. We see these types of scenarios most likely playing out within the next 1 to 3 years.Silver as a Hedge and Multiplier of Wealth
Silver, like gold, has historically been recognized as real money and a store of wealth. The opportunities expected to arise from investing in silver now, however, are even more pronounced than those of gold. Because silver has not received the same attention as gold in the media, fewer investors know about it. This is beginning to change, but silver is still very early on in its bull market as compared to gold, which has progressed further in the second phase of its bull market. Presently, the silver spot price is largely dictated by the movements of derivative-based vehicles such as ETFs, futures and options, which are highly leveraged and cannot accurately track the true value of their underlying asset. Expressed simply, lots of paper is being exchanged, but little physical silver is actually even held by these institutions responsible for distributing these paper promises.
Stealth Silver Depletion will Mean Eventual Greater Gains
Because of the suppression in price that naturally results from these derivative based financial vehicles, investors are currently able to purchase larger amounts of physical silver at exceedingly low prices. This is causing the already small global silver inventory to be depleted at an alarmingly fast rate. The fact that silver has remained as undervalued as it has in the face of bottlenecking, backwardation and the appearance of physical shortages (in certain regions) only testifies to the evident disconnect that exists between the physical silver market, and the paper silver market. Eventually, a more complete disconnect is expected to transpire in which a flight to physical silver will occur to the detriment of the paper market.
There are other reasons why the global silver supply is becoming depleted. Gold is normally hoarded, while silver is hoarded as a monetary metal and consumed as an industrial one. Because no other metal surpasses silver in terms of electrical conductivity, there are literally tens of thousands of electronic and industrial applications presently being used for this metal. Silver also has other types of applications related to other industries due to its excellent reflective and anti-bacterial properties. However, the amounts of silver used per application are so minimal, that it becomes next to impossible to recycle silver from any particular unit. When a computer, cell phone or CD is thrown out in a landfill, the minute amount of silver that existed in each product cannot be recovered; it is lost forever. Consequently, in the last century, approximately 90% of global silver inventory has been consumed and depleted forever. This leaves a final 1 billion ounces of silver approximated to exist on the face of the earth, which industry and investors are currently competing to buy up. The global race has begun.
Silver has experienced an ever increasing rate of depletion for the last 60 years. Furthermore, most of the silver which is easily accessible in the ground has been taken already. Industrial demand alone is increasing at about 18% per year, as new industrial applications keep emerging. Moreover, investor demand continues to increase at a staggering rate, especially in emerging nations.
As a result of the industrial depletion which has taken place, only about 10% of global silver stockpiles remain. All governments and central banks in the world have dumped their silver on the market over the last 70 years, and the majority of this silver has been consumed and depleted. No known government reserves of silver exist anymore in the world, even though gold is still stockpiled by central banks around the world. Because the demand for silver is exceeding [or will soon be exceeding] supply [depending on which source is being used], the arbiter must be price, especially when considering that there is only approximately 1 billion ounces of global silver supply left. At today’s present price, it would not take many billionaires to enter the market and buy up the remaining global supply of silver, which would send the price of silver to astronomical heights.
What We Might Expect in the Future
In observing previous silver bull cycles such as the last one which climaxed in 1980 (see chart below), we can gain a better understanding of what to expect this time around:
In 1966, silver was being sold for $1.29 per ounce. In January of 1980, silver peaked at $48.70 per ounce. That is a massive increase of 3675%. However, comparing the 1970s silver bull market with that of 2011-2012 only gives us a minimal window into what we can begin to expect, as this time, the silver market will be open to the world at large. Unlike in 1980, this market will not be restricted to Western Europe and North America. Furthermore, populations around the world have much more of an investor mindset than people did in the 1970s. For this reason, we can find many more millionaires and billionaires around the world than we could then. The approximate tenfold increase of the monetary base of the world’s reserve currency will also play an important part in determining silver’s ultimate price, as will the fact that silver’s price has been suppressed for such a long period of time. However, the most important factor in the future unleashing of silver’s true price discovery mechanism will be the fact that a large portion of the silver that existed during the 1970s period has been used up and thrown away in landfills through decades of industrial, medical and electronic applications. We will most likely never see that silver again.
The Coming Supply and Demand Shock in the Investment Community
Indeed, so much silver has been used up by industry that there is now actually more gold in the world than silver. This is truly an astonishing matter when one realizes that there are approximately 12 ounces of silver in the earth to every ounce of gold. This is what is termed the ‘natural ratio’ between gold and silver. The ‘monetary ratio’ has historically been approximately 16 silver ounces to one ounce of gold. Yet at our present time, quite incredibly, there is actually more investible grade gold on the earth than silver. The investment tables have not been turned, but flipped. The economic laws related to supply and demand would not normally allow this present situation to persist. Indeed, a market correction is starting to occur at this present time.
The present silver to gold monetary ratio at the time of writing this article is close to 50 to 1, although this is in a continual state of fluctuation. This means that 1 ounce of gold can be bought with approximately 50 ounces of silver, even though there is now more gold than silver available to investors. This ratio is expected to come down to its historic monetary ratio, which as preceded, is around 16 silver ounces to every 1 ounce of gold. Because there is actually more gold than silver on the earth at this time due to industrial consumption, it is conceivable that silver could overshoot this historical monetary ratio and reach a number such as 8, 9 or 10 to 1. Although there has usually been between 12 to 16 times more available silver than gold, presently, there is incredibly more gold than silver. This fact would seem to support the ultra-bullish argument that silver might one day become more valuable than gold. However, a great shift in investor perception would need to occur for this to become a possibility.
Possible Future Silver Highs
The following chart outlines a series of more realistic future highs that silver might eventually reach:
The first column of this chart shows the 1980 nominal high of $48.70 per ounce. The second column shows this 1980 high in inflation adjusted terms using the present U.S. government’s official CPI calculation method. Today’s official inflation adjusted high for silver is $142.02, which means that silver has a long way to go before we can even begin to speak about record prices. However, there is a problem in calculating inflation using this method, as it was brought in by the U.S. government in 1980 to replace the former method of calculation used by previous U.S. administrations. The new method of calculation helps make inflation levels seem more acceptable than they actually are. Hence, the third column of this chart shows the true inflation adjusted high of 1980 to be approximately 3 times the presently used official calculation. The calculation used in this third column was calculated using the method employed by President Jimmy Carter’s administration, and those presidents who preceded him.
The final two columns examine possible silver highs from the perspective of the gold to silver ratio. As discussed in the section on gold, if gold is to do its traditional accounting of today’s reserve currency monetary base, we expect to see prices of at least $10,000 before this bull market is over. Although we expect to see higher prices than this as global wealth rushes to enter into this limited market and fiat monetary bases continue to expand, we prefer to stick to numbers that can be validated by data and past historical experiences, such as the gold to monetary base accounting process which occurred in both 1934 and 1980.
As previously explained, G.I. Metals expects the current gold to silver ratio to correct itself to its historic standard of 16 to 1, which entails being able to purchase 1 ounce of gold with 16 ounces of silver. Column four of the above chart shows that with gold at this relatively conservative top of $10,000 – if silver is at its historic 16:1 average in relation to gold – silver will be $625 per ounce. We have also explained above how it is entirely possible for silver to overshoot this 16:1 average, which is normally what happens when a trend has been misaligned for such a long period of time. If silver does reach a 10 to 1 ratio as it has done before at different times throughout history, then we would be seeing a price of $1000 per ounce, as demonstrated in the fifth column.
In reality, there is no precise way to determine exactly how high gold and silver will eventually go. One thing is sure, however, and that is the degree to which gold and silver are still undervalued in comparison to other global assets, and just how undervalued silver is compared to gold. Gold reached its 1980 nominal high of $873 in the first month of 2008, whereas silver only reached its 1980 nominal high in the summer of 2011.
Clearly, both assets are still under-owned and undervalued, with silver much more so than gold. Although G.I. Metals DMCC projects that silver will outperform gold in the long run, its speculative quality and volatility is not for everyone. However, we suggest that those who can handle this volatility should have physical exposure to silver and its remarkable fundamentals which are still – for the most part – undiscovered.