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So, Who Is Going To The Silver Party?

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The China Card

A force that threatens to profoundly disrupt the silver market is China. After 60 years of it being illegal for Chinese citizens to buy and hold silver (and gold), it has recently become legal. Not only that, the government is actively encouraging citizens to buy silver, allowing it to be sold by banks. Early reports suggest that the Chinese government is succeeding, with stories of bank lines developing for people waiting to buy silver. With the world’s largest population that has an established and ingrained propensity to save, and with an historically attractive asset suddenly available after a void of 60 years, it’s hard to imagine how a rush into silver won’t develop.

In addition, reports of pending export restrictions from China, the world’s largest refiner and third largest miner of silver, threaten to create a one-two price punch never witnessed before. Years ago I wrote, at the urging of my friend and mentor, Izzy Friedman, how China was likely the big silver short, depressing the price to pick up refining market share and dominance in the world production of silver. After the low price drove out world refining competition, China could then be in the position of controlling the price and driving it as high as they desired. I can’t help but think that not only was such analysis by Izzy correct, but it may be about to be realized.

COMEX Crackdown

The most immediate potential force in silver is an issue that has dominated my attention for the past 25 years. The ongoing silver manipulation, caused by an unprecedented concentrated short position on the COMEX, appears to be racing towards a resolution. The main driver behind the pending resolution is the new chairman of the CFTC, Gary Gensler. After only three months, he has grasped and articulated the concept of concentration. I think he may use the term more than I do, as hard to believe as that may be. He understands the role of legitimate position limits in commodity law and has effectively communicated this concept. He is proactive, a rare quality in a public servant. It is an understatement to say he may be the best CFTC Chairman ever.

Even if Chairman Gensler fails to live up to my high expectations in the Commission’s future actions, he may have done enough already to bring the silver manipulation to an end. He has elevated the issue of position limits and concentration to such a level that it guarantees that questions must finally be answered about the unusual short side concentration in COMEX silver futures. He has received many hundreds of public and private messages about this specific issue. He can’t and won’t ignore the questions and demands from the public. He will address them in some way.

We are now at the one-year anniversary of the current ongoing silver investigation by the CFTC. This is the third silver investigation in five years. The current silver investigation came into existence as a result of articles written by me about the revelations in the August 2008 Bank Participation Report. This report showed that one of two US banks (most likely JPMorgan) held a short position equal to 25% of total world silver mine production. This is an unprecedented concentration, never witnessed in commodity market history. I asked the public question – how can such a concentrated position not be manipulative to the price of silver? Instead of answering, the CFTC decided to launch another investigation. This is what a government agency usually does when it can’t answer a simple and direct question.

But the new chairman of the Commission has not evaded direct questions on the important matter of concentration and position limits. He wasn’t the chairman when the question of concentration was asked last year. He wasn’t the chairman when silver was investigated three times in five years. That’s the big difference between then and now. Gary Gensler is the chairman now and that is all that matters. In my opinion, he will soon address the questions in silver.

There is also the question of the short side without concentration. Recently, I indicated that I thought JPMorgan had probably covered its big concentrated short position in other markets, such as the OTC market. In other words, it is my speculation that JPMorgan passed the silver short hot potato to unsuspecting entities. Please remember, this would be a transfer of the short position and its inherent risk to other parties, not an elimination of the position and its risk. It doesn’t really matter if JPMorgan transferred the risk, as far as the market is concerned. The short position still exists.

On just the COMEX alone, including all futures and call options, but subtracting all spread positions, there is close to 500 million ounces of net silver short positions. I don’t care who holds it, this short position exists. Given the current and future realities in silver, this is an incredibly uninformed short position. It is not backed by real silver. Given how much silver exists in good-delivery bullion form and who owns it, there is a severe mismatch between that available silver and the amount the shorts have obligated themselves to deliver someday. The short holders have no prospect of securing real silver, except to buy it in the open market, thus driving prices higher and hurting themselves in the process. The collective COMEX short position stands to lose $500 million for every dollar that silver climbs in price. Silver is about to climb many dollars in price. My point is simple. Forget who owns the COMEX short position; just remember they don’t realize what a precarious position they have placed themselves in. That they will panic and rush to buy at some point is guaranteed.

Industrial Panic

On top of all these powerful forces set to launch a super price bubble the likes of which the world has never witnessed before, looms what I think is the most powerful force of all – the coming industrial user inventory buying panic. As I recently wrote in “A Date With Destiny,†it is almost impossible for the users not to panic, once tightness in the silver market results in delays in shipments to industrial consumers. Such delays will threaten the very existence of many users continuing as ongoing concerns. None of these users will cease to exist without a fight. That fight will involve buying silver, at any price available. This will feed on itself, until it burns out in a frenzied panic. Investors will panic and buy when silver prices soar, but no one will panic more than the users, with the possible exception of the shorts.

Price bubbles are rare. We throw the term around quite loosely nowadays, having recently experienced two bubbles, the Internet stock bubble ending in 2000 and the housing bubble. But bubbles remain the exception, not the rule. There are some characteristics common to all bubbles. You have to start with a good underlying story or investment premise, like a brand new technology or a belief that housing prices only go up. The story is usually legitimate to begin with, but everyone gets carried away and higher prices eventually outstrip the underlying story. But the price rise creates fortunes for those that know when to exit. The silver story is more compelling than any prior bubble. So will be the overrun in price.

You can only have a bubble if large numbers of people participate and there is widespread borrowing to buy the bubble asset. At the end, people are buying only because prices are rising. I believe this will occur in silver and we must be ready to exit when that takes place. But the point is that we are so far away from these excesses that it’s unnecessary to worry about them now. It is wise to put the coming silver super price bubble into proper perspective. We’re not close to it yet.

And please keep this in mind – with no other bubble did we have these conditions; a large and concentrated short position, a looming physical shortage, a downward manipulation that might be attacked by regulators, the entry into the investment equation of the most populous nation on earth, and a prospective industrial user inventory buying panic. It is hard to imagine how silver won’t be the largest bubble in history. You’ve just been given an invitation to participate beforehand.

Mike

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Very good post, thanks.

There one thing you could add to the factors you've listed: the crack down on offshore tax heavens.

There's apparently a few trillions hiding there. Imagine all these guys with a few millions in Swiss or BVI bank accounts wondering where they can move these funds to without the taxman knowing about it.

Thinking about it I don't see much other than precious metals.

I would expect this to have an impact over time.

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Yes, good post.

The influence of China on gold is that they are desperate to move their huge dollar mountain into something more tangible and something that the "round eyes" of the US cannot debase. So gold, copper, steel, etc., etc.

I'm not so sure about the rationale for silver, maybe it's just a wish to keep the wealth inside the country? But they are definitely having an effect on the global market. The Chinese could have a big stockpile of silver, but although I doubt that, they do have a stockpile in a different form - the reserves in the ground in the silver mines. I am sure that they would be very pleased to have those reserves sky-rocket in value.

Apart from commodities in general, I would regard Chinese stocks as a relatively safe investment vehicle. Even if the rest of the world takes a back-flip into a depression, the vast Chinese population still want to consume something, even if it's only food. That has to be bullish on their stock and commodity prices, and if they all want an iPod (or anything else that uses silver as a component), then the price of silver may amaze us.

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Apart from commodities in general, I would regard Chinese stocks as a relatively safe investment vehicle.

Define relative.

Chinese stocks are extremely volatile and price movements are even more subject to rumour and irrational speculation than stocks in the West. Only those with money they don't mind losing should invest in Chinese stocks.

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