Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss?
(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.)
It’s hard to imagine now, but there were times when I worried about having anything fresh to write about silver. Lately it has been choosing from many different topics. This week, the choice was easy. Amid the continuing swirl of major financial crises, one issue rose to the top.
On Thursday, September 25, the Wall Street Journal carried an article announcing that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) had opened a new investigation into allegations of manipulation in the silver market. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122231175151874367.html
Furthermore, on that same day, Commissioner Bart Chilton e-mailed a copy of the Journal story, along with his own comments confirming the investigation, to those who wrote to him about the issue. Both the article and Chilton’s e-mail made special note that the silver investigation was being conducted by the Division of Enforcement, and not the Division of Market Oversight, which had previously investigated the silver market. In simple terms, Enforcement is the muscle.
Whether an entire market, like silver (or gold), is manipulated or not is a matter of utmost importance. In fact, nothing could possibly be more important. Market manipulation is a violation of law and a serious crime. Market manipulation damages everyone in the long run.
Because market manipulation is the number one priority of the CFTC, any revelation that they might be investigating a manipulation in any commodity is big news. So big, in fact, that such investigations are almost always kept strictly confidential while the facts are determined. This is usually so as not to disturb the market. That the CFTC has chosen to openly reveal this silver investigation is almost unprecedented.
Moreover, what makes this silver investigation a rare event is that the allegations are of a manipulation in progress. To my knowledge, all past investigations were revealed after the manipulation itself was concluded. Not only is it rare for the CFTC (or any government agency) to reveal a serious active investigation, it is unheard of to reveal an investigation of a potential crime in progress. If a regulator suspects a crime in progress you would assume the regulator would first end the suspected crime and then finish the investigation. If the regulator didn’t think there was a sufficient evidence of an ongoing crime, then why reveal that an investigation has been opened?
I think this is why there is universal expectation (including by me) that the silver investigation will be a whitewash. I know that silver is manipulated, and I’m glad to see the CFTC investigate. But I can’t help but feel suspicious of their objectivity, because they have adamantly denied such a manipulation for more than 20 years. How can they conduct a fair investigation and not be influenced by their past findings? I have been here and done this many times, and I don’t feel like getting fooled again.
EXPLANATION, NOT INVESTIGATION
Why the CFTC is investigating a silver manipulation is somewhat of a mystery to me. I certainly didn’t ask for an investigation. I did ask you to ask for them to explain the data in their August Bank Participation Report, in my “Smoking Gun” article https://www.investmentrarities.com/08-22-08.html This is the report that is directly responsible for the investigation. This is the report at the heart of the matter. But there is a difference between explanation and investigation.
When I first uncovered the data in this report, a little more than a month ago, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had studied the data in previous Bank Participation Reports for years, but that’s because I’m a silver data junkie. This is usually a nothing report. In all the years I studied this data, it seemed like a waste of time. It was an obscure report that I never heard anyone ever refer to before. But the data in the August report was so disturbing that, in order to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, I asked two trusted associates, Izzy Friedman and Carl Loeb, to review the data with no advance suggestion from me as to its meaning. I wanted their unvarnished opinion.
When they confirmed that this was the clearest case of manipulation possible, I faced a new dilemma. I was inclined to believe that the data was in error. I suspected the CFTC would retract the data. So I was worried about being publicly embarrassed for making a big deal out of what may have been a clerical error. But the more I matched this data against the weekly Commitment of Traders Report (COT) data, I could see the data was accurate. Certainly, if the data was incorrect, the CFTC would have said so by now.
The data is clear – one or two U.S. banks sold short the equivalent of 140 million ounces of silver in one month. That’s more than 20% of world annual mine production. Less than three U.S, banks sold more than 10% of world annual mine production of gold simultaneously. The price of silver and gold then collapsed by an historic amount. These same banks have used the sell-off as an opportunity to buy back as many of their short positions at a giant profit. Those are the facts.
It is important to put these numbers into perspective, in order to appreciate their significance. One way to do that is by comparing what just took place in silver to other commodities. If one or two U.S. banks sold short, in a period of one month, the equivalent of 20% of world annual production of corn, that would equal one million futures contracts. (25 billion bushels x 20% divided by 5000 bushels). Since the entire open interest in corn futures is one million contracts, a sudden short sale of that amount would crush the price.
If one or two U.S. banks sold short 20% of the world annual production of crude oil, that would be the equivalent of 6 million NYMEX futures contracts. (30 billion barrels x 20% divided by 1000 barrels). Since the entire open interest on the NYMEX is around 1 million contracts, a sudden sale of 6 times that amount would drive the price of oil to ten cents a barrel. It would also be market manipulation beyond question.
The CFTC doesn’t need to investigate. They only need to explain why their own data fails to prove manipulation in silver and gold. Save the taxpayer some money and all of us some time. This needn’t take days, weeks, or months. This should take, literally, minutes. Why maintain and publish the data in the Bank Participation Reports if the CFTC won’t recognize an obvious manipulation that is a crime in progress.
The latest COTs confirmed the one thing I was hoping and expecting them to confirm, namely, that the biggest shorts continued to cover their short positions in gold and silver. What makes their short covering most noteworthy is that the buybacks in the most recent report occurred on a sharp rise in price, some $3 in silver and $120 in gold for the reporting week. This tells me that the big short, the U.S. bank(s), is serious about getting out of as much of its massive silver short position as it can.
From the time of the August Bank Participation Report, the big shorts have now covered nearly all of the gold short position put on during July. Therefore, the manipulation in gold was a complete success. In silver, while the manipulation must be considered a success, because the big short has covered an impressive amount, it has not covered all of its manipulative short position. In looking at the structure of the COTs, it does not appear to me that much further liquidation can occur to the downside. To say that the COTs are structured bullishly, would be a gross understatement.
My mentor, Izzy Friedman, recently asked me to turn the clock back to a year ago, and then try to imagine that we would have a severe retail silver shortage. A shortage that now seems to be spreading to gold. It’s a powerful and profound thought process.
This silver retail shortage is completely underappreciated. I don’t think there could be more clear proof that silver has been manipulated in price. The talk that it’s “only” a retail shortage and not a wholesale shortage is silly. The silver retail shortage is so widespread in scope, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads to the wholesale sector. That’s especially true considering the record inflows into the silver ETFs. When the wholesale silver shortage hits, it will make a mockery of any CFTC investigation into manipulation.
The reason I believe the retail shortage is not truly appreciated is because of the boiling frog syndrome. Put a frog into a pot of cold water and increase the heat gradually to a boil and he won’t jump out. Because the silver retail shortage has been so persistent and gradual for the past year, we have grown accustomed to it. Most dealers have little to sell. Nowadays, it’s news when a dealer gets in a supply of silver, which is invariably sold out quickly. Guess what? That’s not normal, and just because it has been a gradual development doesn’t make it normal.
In fact, the growing and persistent physical silver shortage promises to be with us for a long time. Look around at the financial world. Do you see anything better to hold than real silver? Can you imagine owners of real silver rushing to dump their metal at depressed prices. To do what with the proceeds? Rush to put them in a failing bank?
It pains me to see so much financial peril around. Regular readers know I prefer supply/demand considerations and analysis of market structure. I’ve always considered the flight to quality aspect of silver as a bonus. But I see signs of that flight to quality in the current physical shortage. I don’t think that is going away any time soon. How many reasons does one need to load the boat with silver?
For subscription info please go to www.butlerresearch.com