July 8, 2003

Is Red China the Big Silver Short?

By Theodore Butler

(The following essay was written by silver analyst Theodore Butler. Investment Rarities does not necessarily endorse these views, which may or may not prove to be correct.)

Sometimes, but very rarely, through sheer intelligence and experience, one is able to pinpoint a future event with remarkable precision. Kind of like the scene in the movie, "The Godfather", where the old Don, wounded and aging, warns and counsels his son-successor to beware of him who comes first to make the peace, as he will be the true enemy. That was the movies, of course, but I have my own silver Godfather of sorts in my friend Izzy. I must say that he is the smartest person I have encountered in my life. For years, he has been counseling me that one of the signs that we were likely to explode soon in price, would be the appearance, out of the blue, of bearish stories on silver. He also said that by analyzing the stories carefully, when they came, we could learn the identity of the big silver short.

When I read the following story released today, Izzy's prediction rang loud and clear. After all, who would be more likely to spread bearish stories than a big short? I want to post the entire story here, in the interest of objective analysis:

Shanghai, July 7 (Dow Jones) - China's silver exports in 2003 are expected to reach at least 2,100 metric tons as steady gains for spot silver prices in global markets will encourage more exports in the second half of this year, an executive with a Beijing-based think-tank said Monday. Tang Wujun, vice general manager of semi-official think-tank Beijing Antaike Information Development Co., predicted that the upward trend in spotsilver would last through the rest of this year if a global economic recovery took place.

Although spot silver has fallen from around $5.10 a troy ounce in mid-2002, it has been posting slight but steady gains recently. It was quoted at $4.67-$4.69/oz at 0700 GMT in London Monday, up slightly from $4.48-$4.52/oz quoted a month ago.

Furthermore, "our silver production each year is pretty much larger than our consumption... Therefore, we have to seek overseas buyers to digest our large supply," Tang told Dow Jones Newswires on the sidelines of the China Silver Forum in Shanghai.

China is expected to produce a total of 2,400 tons of silver metal from silver ores as well as slightly over 2,000 tons of silver metal from recycled metal scrap, according to Tang. The country's silver consumption is pegged at only 1,800 tons in 2003. Although this represents an increase of 10% from last year, it is still much lower than total output this year.

In order to reduce the severe oversupply of silver, the Chinese government was likely to sell less state reserves to the public this year, sources close to the government said.

Last year, the government sold 1,600 tons of silver from its reserves, making it the world's largest seller of silver.
China Bureau, Dow Jones Newswires, (86-21) 6218-3268

Now that you've read the entire story, I'd like to analyze it. First off, it has a distinctly bearish bent. There's no other way to interpret, "the severe oversupply of silver....". Remember, we are talking about a commodity in a documented worldwide deficit. Oversupply and deficit are contradictory. It's either one or the other, you can't have both. You either believe the accepted deficit statistics published by western market sources, which are verified by the decline in visible inventories, or you believe a Communist government's attempt to influence the market. And please don't overlook the obvious. Ask yourself this - why is Red China suddenly so generous and open in sharing sensitive commodity information? Do you think they are trying to help you?

As far as the numbers used in story, I will assume them to be correct. China does refine, from ores and recycled material combined, 4400 tons of silver per year, or about 140 million ounces, making them the largest silver refiner in the world. What the story doesn't say is that the bulk of these ores and recycled material are imported into China, as there's no way you can recycle 2000 tons of silver when you consume 1800 tons. As I have previously written about China, it has become the refiner of silver of last resort, due to its blind eye towards pollution. In other words, China is refining silver that was previously refined elsewhere, there has been no net increase in world silver refining production or capacity. The production capacity was switched to China. The story avoided that point - intentionally, in my opinion.

Also of interest in the story was the fact that domestic Chinese consumption grew 10% last year, or almost 200 tons. That means if Chinese silver consumption grows by that amount over the next five years (a given, according to consensus expectations), China will be consuming 1000 more tons of silver annually, or an additional 30 million ounces than currently.

The most important information in the story was the very last sentence, which stated that the Chinese sold 1,600 tons, or over 50 million ounces, from government holdings. It said that China was the world's largest silver seller. Please think about that for a moment. In spite of an obvious attempt to show how much silver China was producing and exporting, there was the stark reality that the Red Chinese government sold (dumped, via leasing) more than 50 million ounces of silver last year, from official government stockpiles. That is all you need to know. It shows how the talk of oversupply is utter nonsense. It confirms the worldwide deficit in silver. In fact, it does a lot more than that.

Recent statistics show a worldwide deficit in silver of around 65 million ounces. That means that just one country, Red China, supplied almost 80% of the existing inventories necessary to balance that deficit. Clearly, without this "donation" from the Red Chinese, silver prices would be much, much higher. If the Chinese didn't dump more than 50 million ounces of existing inventory on the market, the silver would have to come from other sources. If it had to come from other sources, only sharply higher prices could have drawn it to the market. That's how markets work. Stated simply - Red China, just about by itself, has kept silver prices depressed.

Two questions should be crossing your mind - one, what would the price of silver have been if China didn't dump 50 million ounces from official holdings? If you believe in the law of supply and demand, then you know what the answer is - a lot higher. The second question is why would the Chinese dump silver (at historically low prices) at all? Especially when so much refining capacity has been shifted to China. After all, you would think the Chinese would benefit from higher prices and would work towards those higher prices. It is in the attempt to answer this question logically, that my silver Godfather's prediction rings true - Red China is probably the big short in silver. If true, there is one thing of which you can be certain - Red China is working hand in hand with one or more of the Silver Managers

Why would China (or a group of Chinese companies working together) be the big short in silver? There are several possibilities. One, is to make money. As I wrote recently, the Silver Managers have made billions of dollars from COMEX futures and options. Maybe Red China was the big customer that the Silver Managers were hiding behind and working with. They divided the profits. Profits that came from the technical funds and others. Profits made possible from the market control gained by being the world's largest silver seller. With Red China working in cahoots with the Silver Managers, the CFTC would be tricked into thinking this was legitimate hedging. Legitimate, in a pig's foot. If Red China was the big short on the COMEX, while at the same time dumping inventory to depress the price, that doesn't make the price any less manipulated. It just means that China was the mastermind and/or muscle behind the manipulation.

Other possibilities for why China would manipulate silver prices, include an even uglier motivation than just amassing big COMEX trading profits. China is obviously dramatically increasing its share of world silver refining capacity. Perhaps Red China's motive is to keep silver prices artificially low, by dumping silver on the market and shorting like crazy on the COMEX, in order to drive other refining competitors out of business. Motive or not, that is exactly what has occurred. Once enough competition is eliminated, Red China will be in position to set prices to the upside, since they control such a dominant silver refining market share. There are more domestic and international laws that make such predatory pricing and business practices illegal than you could ever name. If it comes out that the CFTC and COMEX management had knowledge that China was, in fact, involved in this manipulative silver scam, they should be drawn and quartered. And if the Silver Managers think they can pass the buck to the Red Chinese, and keep their illicit gains in COMEX silver trading, they better think again.

Think of the negative strategic implications of having Red China dictate silver prices, first down, then up. Silver is a vital component in thousands of industrial applications. That means if silver is unavailable, entire production lines will shut down and workers will be sent home. The US Government, and its western counterparts, are now officially out of silver. All run silver deficits. All must import large amounts of silver. Red China is now the largest silver refiner in the world, and is increasing its share. At some point, Chinese industrial consumption will rise to the level where there is no silver available for export. To watch this develop is distressing to me. When there is not enough silver to go around, and factories around the world must close because of that, you can be sure Red China's factories will take preference over US or European factories for China's silver refining production. And, unfortunately, we have had two wars since I wrote about the defense implications of the US Government running out of silver and being dependent upon imports for more than 50 per cent of US consumption. Having Red China emerge as the largest silver refiner in the world, make matters a lot worse potentially.

What does this China story mean to silver investors? For one thing, it suggests a major name as the manipulator of a major market. This, I suppose, is how it must be. More importantly, it doesn't change anything. The silver market has been manipulated by leasing and uneconomic short selling on the COMEX. The Silver Managers are still the ringleaders. Having Red China emerge as the customer behind the Silver Managers fits perfectly. Motive, means and opportunity. And it explains (almost) how the CFTC and COMEX could turn a blind eye towards the manipulation right in front of them.

Both the CFTC and the COMEX are concerned with futures and options trading. Even though I have presented almost irrefutable evidence of violations of futures trading law (specifically violations of speculative position limits and manipulative COMEX warehouse movements), they have managed to sidestep the issue. But they are definitely not used to dealing with foreign nations involved in dumping. Usually, the Federal Trade Commission or the Commerce Dept. handle dumping charges. But, once it is brought to their intention that a foreign nation, particularly a non-democratic and communist dictatorship, may be involved in both futures law violations and physical commodity dumping, the CFTC and COMEX must open their eyes. Red China is sending unambiguous statements that they are dumping silver and are establishing themselves as the world silver refining powerhouse. If it turns out that China is also a kingpin in COMEX paper trading, that would complete the scam. This should be as simple for the CFTC to prosecute as a paint-by-numbers exercise for a 5 year-old.

I will not ask the CFTC and the COMEX if Red China is a big player on the COMEX, as I know what they will say - the law prevents us from disclosing the identity of traders. But the law also demands that they take action when manipulation and dumping are evident. Is their something about full disclosure that is so sacred that it preempts manipulation? Or are the CFTC and COMEX just selectively interpreting the law?

Will Izzy's premonition that bearish stories on silver prove to be the timing indicator for the major move? Time will tell, but the reasoning certainly sounds logical to me. After all, why would anyone make up bearish stories at this point? The only answer seems to be to send intentional false signals. Maybe Red China has exhausted its government holdings of silver. It seems they have sold well over 150 million ounces over the past 3 years. They will run out someday. Maybe these intentionally planted stories mean they are out of silver to dump, and they are trying to convince others to sell silver, based upon their phony bearish stories. This too is against US commodity law.

The question silver investors must ask themselves is what will happen when the Chinese stop dumping 50 million ounces a year from inventories? We know that must happen, as these, and all, inventories are finite. Where will the silver come from to make up the loss of 50 million ounces of supply? More importantly, what price will be necessary to draw 50 million ounces out of the woodwork, when, not if, China stops dumping silver from inventory? Additionally, my common sense tells me that when China runs out of inventory to dump, it will no longer be the big paper seller of COMEX silver, if they have been the big short. That's a giant double whammy to the upside.

Recently, I have read many stories on silver that mention manipulation and the short position on the COMEX. I think this is terrific and I congratulate the authors. I have raised these issues for more years than I care to remember, and it is gratifying to now see others write about them and confirm my analyses. It feels good not to be so alone, as I was for so many years. I think what may have been the catalyst for the recent trend of articles confirming my thesis has been my question, how can a market even be considered free, if it is in a long term deficit without rising prices? I am sure that the only answer to that question is that market must be manipulated. That is why no one, especially the CFTC and the COMEX, have been able to answer otherwise. That's why I asked the question in the first place.

I think it is important for silver investors to always put this silver manipulation issue into proper perspective. While you might feel the outrage that I feel about the continuing manipulation, and now the possible involvement of Red China, you must also remember that this manipulation is your best friend. Without this manipulation, you would never have the opportunity to buy silver at such give-away prices. Perhaps it is Red China that has made it possible for you to achieve your financial dreams. But only if you seize the moment and buy real silver. Take it from my Silver Godfather - they are making you an offer you can't refuse.