In Ted Butler's Archive

A Simple Decision

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

One thing you can say about the recent sharp sell-off in silver, at the very least, is that it forces you to think. In fact, my friend and mentor, Izzy Friedman, wrote an article with that title a couple of years ago. Nothing focuses an investor’s attention more than a sudden decline in price, especially in an item one thought was undervalued to begin with. This is as it should be.

I’m not going to completely rehash the premise of the original article, but instead try to simplify the lesson of this most recent sell-off in silver. Why did it occur? And what should you learn from it?

Was there any obvious real world developments in actual silver supply and demand fundamentals that caused the price to decline? Not from anything I‘ve observed. Investor demand for real metal remained strong for every measurable category from strong ETF flows and record coin production and sales, to dramatic COMEX warehouse withdrawals, to continued disruptions in silver production and refining. Industrial consumption, admittedly weak, didn’t suddenly plunge anew in the last few weeks.

The explanation for the sell-off was the same as it ever was – price rigging on the COMEX. The big commercial shorts engineered the market lower to force leveraged longs on margin to sell, in order for the big shorts to buy back futures and other derivatives. Once again, the derivatives market tail wagged the real world price of silver dog. The good news is that the concentrated short position, while still large and manipulative, appears to be just about as low as it’s going to get, after this recent sell-off and the engineered decline over the past 8 months.

OK, if that’s the answer to why silver sold off, what’s the lesson? The lesson is that you must approach silver in such a way that you are not a victim of the manipulators. Buy for cash, don’t borrow or go on margin. You can’t prevent silver from dropping due to these rigged sell-offs, but you can prevent your silver from being taken away from you by forced margin call selling.

There’s a simple decision that every silver investor must make. You must decide whether you believe that the price of silver is manipulated or if it is functioning as a free market. This may sound weird at first, but if you decide that silver is not manipulated in price, but is trading free from control, you shouldn’t buy it or continue to hold it as an investment, in my opinion.

That’s because if you believe that the price of silver is free from an active downward manipulation, you must believe it is priced in accordance with everything you see around you. You must believe that consistent record demand for an item should result in sharply lower prices. You must be comfortable with delays and rising premiums being compatible with lower prices. You must be able to disregard documented proof of an unprecedented concentrated short position as unconvincing, and regulator stalling and double-talk as reassuring. You must see something I don’t see.

Instead, if you do see manipulation permeating the silver market, that is the best reason for buying. If you see manipulation, you see an artificially depressed price, a price screaming to be bought. If you see manipulation, you see a condition that can’t last, that must end. If you see manipulation, then everything makes sense about silver’s price history and circumstances. If you see manipulation, you know the usual commentary about silver is nonsense. If you see manipulation, you can understand the sharp sell-offs. If you see manipulation, you know it will end explosively to the upside.

While deciding for yourself whether silver is manipulated or not, here are some additional reasons to consider silver at this time.


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

Amid all the recent attention I’ve placed on the continued manipulation in silver, some may mistakenly assume that diminishes the case for silver. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m convinced that silver is a better buy than ever before. Here are detailed reasons why I believe that is the case.

One, the near-term emotional temperature of the market is low. There is no bullish “fever” where uniformed investors are driven to buy silver because of a sharply rising price. That will happen, but it’s not true now. While silver is still above the price lows of last fall and higher than year-end prices, the recent price action is nothing to write home about. The price has been below most of the important moving averages, causing silver to be “oversold.” This is a much better time to buy than when prices have already climbed and many are buying just because prices are rising. At those times the risk of a sharp sell-off is high. Now the risk of a prolonged price decline is much lower. Now is the time to buy low.

Two, leveraged speculators who normally buy COMEX futures contracts and Over The Counter (OTC) derivatives do not hold a historically significant number of long contracts. The big dealers have been so successful at forcing long speculators out of the market, that the speculative long position is at important low levels. This means that long speculators have already been forced to sell and no big selling from them appears probable. On any rise in price, they are likely to buy, adding a force to rising prices. Buy before they turn buyers.

Three, available wholesale silver inventories appear to be tight. These physical silver inventories are falling into stronger hands. For decades the world’s largest stockpiles of silver were the COMEX warehouse inventories. These COMEX inventories were considered mostly commercial in nature with some portion being held for investment purposes. The COMEX inventories peaked at around 280 million ounces in the early 1990’s, and accounted for 90% of all visible silver inventories. After the introduction of silver Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), there was a profound shift in the location and structure of world visible silver inventories.

Now, the combined inventories in the ETFs and other investment vehicles tower over the holdings in the COMEX by almost 4 to 1. (Over 400 million ounces in the ETFs compared to 120 million oz in COMEX inventories). Given the long-term nature of ETF investment holdings, this massive and historic shift in inventory composition means much less silver is now available to the market. This will exert a strong upward influence on price.

Four, all signs indicate that physical investment demand for silver on both a retail and wholesale basis is strong could surge further. Until a few years ago, there was no net silver investment buying for decades. That pattern has changed with a vengeance. Clearly, the introduction of the ETFs have played a major role in this investment transformation.

The strong buying that we have seen does not appear to be “hot” money, but sober and determined accumulation. It wasn’t surging prices prompting buyers over the last six months. It’s due to a growing awareness and conviction about silver’s real supply and demand fundamentals. Importantly, there has been practically no buying of silver on a leveraged or margin basis. It’s mostly been cash on the barrel. These strong silver buyers will wait for significantly higher prices before selling. With higher prices inevitable at some point, the hot-money crowd should come in and blow the doors off the price.

Five, silver production is tightening, given the byproduct-nature of silver mining. As I have written recently, base metals production like copper, lead and zinc appears to have fallen significantly, also reducing the production of silver as a byproduct.

Six, world economic and financial conditions appear lined up to favor higher silver prices, no matter what occurs. If financial conditions remain unsettled, flight to quality buying in silver appears likely. If the world does return to better economic growth patterns, silver will benefit as a result of increased industrial consumption. Heads silver benefits, tails it also benefits.

Seven, more investors than ever have come to realize that the silver market has been manipulated and the government regulators and exchange officials are unable to persuasively address the growing evidence of a silver manipulation. The manipulation debate has become widespread in metal circles. It isn’t going away. The best the regulators have been able to do is to stall and pretend to be investigating. Fewer people are being fooled by such actions. A scam like the silver manipulation can’t continue when so many know about it. This scam will end suddenly and sharply in a price jump to the upside.

Eight, industrial demand for silver will continue to grow in the years ahead. New uses for silver appear regularly. A robust worldwide economy will initiate a new phase of silver demand. Higher prices will not diminish this demand because small amounts of silver are used in each industrial application.

Reasons nine and ten, silver prices are cheap on several important objective measurements. Silver is cheap compared to its own recent price. It is down more than 40% from its highs of one year ago, in spite of the strongest physical demand in history. More investment silver has been purchased over the past year than at any other period in history. At precisely the same time that prices have declined so sharply, more ETF-type buying has occurred than ever before and more Silver Eagles have been sold by the US Mint than ever before. We have witnessed the highest premiums on all retail forms of silver in history. This isn’t just me saying silver is cheap, this is the investment world voting with its collective wallet. Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture that can only be explained by manipulation on the COMEX and the OTC market by a few giant financial institutions, led by JPMorgan.

Silver is cheap on a cost of production basis. Never have the net operating results of so many different silver miners been so poor. The common denominator is too low a price for their main product. Silver is up three-fold from the lows of a few years ago, yet the silver mining industry still suffers. That’s because the cost of production has risen faster than the price of silver. That must be rectified.

Silver is dirt cheap relative to gold. While there is less above ground silver than gold, silver’s price has rarely been this low compared to gold.

The manipulation that explains why silver is so cheap cannot exist in a bona fide physical shortage. If the price stays low, growing numbers of investors buy real silver. That makes it harder for the manipulators to keep the price contained with paper derivatives. Some fret the scam can be continued indefinitely. If it were just a question of printing more money or more paper derivatives, perhaps that might be true. But it’s not about an unlimited supply of paper silver, it’s about a limited supply of physical silver that guarantees the manipulation will end soon. The termination of controls on the price of silver will be something we look back upon and marvel over how long it existed. Just make sure you are looking back while holding as much real silver as you can.

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