Gold-Silver Divergence, Report 17 April, 2017

This was a holiday-shorted week, due to Good Friday, and we are posting this Monday evening due to today being a holiday in much of the world.

Gold and silver went up the dollar went down, +$33 and +$0.53 -64mg gold and -.05g silver. The prices of the metals in dollar terms are readily available, and the price of the dollar in terms of honest money can be easily calculated. The point of this Report is to look into the market to understand the fundamentals of supply and demand. This can’t necessarily tell you what the price will do tomorrow. However, it tells you where the price should be, if physical metal were to clear based on supply and demand.

Of course, two factors make this very interesting. One is that the speculators use leverage, and they can move the price around. At least for a while. The other is that the fundamentals change. There is no guarantee that the prices of the metals will reach the fundamental price of a given day. Think of the fundamentals as gravity, not the strongest force in the system but inexorable, tugging every day.

This week, the fundamentals of both metals moved, though not together. We will take a look at that below, but first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It didn’t move much this week.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

The scarcity (i.e. the cobasis, the red line) is in a gentle rising trend for about six months. This week, the cobasis was down slightly. Not a surprise given the (relatively) big price move of +$33. Nor does it appear to break the trend.

Our calculated fundamental price of gold is at $1,301, just above the market price.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

In silver, it’s much harder to say that there is an uptrend in the cobasis. Our indicator of scarcity is at the same level it was in October. Back then, the price of silver was $17.60 and on Thursday it was just about 90 cents higher.

The fundamental price back then was just under $15. Now it’s just under $16.50. This happens to be down about 40 cents this week.

With the fundamental of gold rising, and that of silver falling, it’s not surprising that the fundamental gold-silver ratio is up to a bit over 79.

 

© 2017 Monetary Metals

Mea Culpa, Report 9 April, 2017

Dear Readers,

I owe you an apology. I made a mistake. I am writing this letter in the first person, because I made the mistake.

Let me explain what happened. I wrote software to calculate the gold basis and cobasis (and of course silver too). The app does not just calculate the near contract. It calculates the basis for many contracts out in the distance, so I can see the whole picture. I developed a model for the fundamental price, based on the basis. My software calculates this, too (spoiler alert: the reported fundamental prices were high).

I have long since debugged it. It works reliably. So reliably, that every day I pored over the results, but I no longer checked the inputs and intermediate steps of the calculation. Now, in retrospect, I realize that I should have.

The root cause is simple. For as far back as I have ever seen, the symbol for a future has been a two-letter code for the commodity + a one letter for the month and one digit for the year. For example, gold is GC. December is Z. And 2017 is 7. So the December gold contract is “GC Z7”. Silver is SI, so December silver is “SI Z7”.

I did not expect my realtime quote provider to change year codes for contracts in 2018 and beyond. No longer is it one digit for year—8 in this case. Now it requires two digits. So the December 2018 gold contract is “GC Z18”. Even now that I have looked, I do not find any announcement of this change. I am not even sure it is an official COMEX change, or just a quirk of one quote provider.

This error was compounded because my software was not programmed to notify me of a problem. In software, the only thing worse than a failure in a system that is used in production is a silent failure that goes unnoticed, and hence goes uncorrected. This failure was unnoticed.

Before I get to the impact, I want to discuss how we will make sure this does not happen again.

My team and I have been working hard on a new website, and the centerpiece will be our ongoing data science work in the precious metals markets. We will publish about 45 graphs, with daily updates. Obviously, this is driven by a much more sophisticated software system than my humble application.

The new software is developed by one of the best coders in the world (not me, I’m rusty after not coding full-time in almost 15 years). Rudy Mathieu worked for my last company, a software company called DiamondWare.

Rudy has built a hardened, enterprise-grade software system (now undergoing extensive testing), and when it encounters an error, it does not fail silently. It is constantly checking the status of all key components, and has a dashboard so we can monitor how the software and the server running it are doing. It emails us if anything goes wrong. It will instantly detect problems, such as a change in the year code or even the Spanish Inquisition, which nobody expects (sorry, just a bit of humor).

For years, I have been publishing a unique view into the markets. Our new site takes it a thousand times further. I expect that it will become an essential tool for anyone who uses or trades gold. We need to ensure it is as reliable as clockwork.

I promise to make it so.

Back to the question: what was the net effect? My software was not able to calculate a basis for gold or silver contracts maturing in 2018 or beyond. However, my fundamental price model relies on them. Its accuracy began to suffer starting around last August. This error continued to grow in magnitude. As of last week’s Report, the fundamental price of gold was overstated by about $175, and silver’s fundamental by $2.30.

The correct fundamental prices as of Friday March 31 were about $1,260 and $16.70.

Interestingly—and this is important—the gold-silver ratio fundamental was robust to this error. The value stated in last week’s report, 75.75, was almost perfect. It was off from the revised estimated fundamentals by 0.2. I say revised and estimated, because I went back over the time period where I have incomplete data and derived what I need. The result is good enough for horeshoes and hand grenades, as we say in America (but it has higher uncertainty).

There is a bigger lesson here. Monetary Metals focuses on the ratio (which we trade in our fund), because it is less error-prone, more accurate, and less risky than trading either metal against the dollar.

OK… The bottom line is that on March 31, the corrected gold fundamental was above the market price, though not nearly so far above as I had reported it. It was about 1.4% over the market price (I reported 15.6% last week).

As an aside, my friend Pater Tenebrarum at Acting Man blog wrote about the disparity between the fundamental drivers that he monitors, and the fundamentals I reported. He is right in thinking that demand for physical is not going ballistic yet.

Though as you will see in the graphs below, the fundamental price has indeed been rising since mid to late December (as I have been correctly reporting), from a low of around $1,115 to $1261 at the end of March.

The correct silver fundamental price is below the market price. My commentary actually stands up pretty well, in light of the correct data. Even while I erroneously reported a silver fundamental running up to about $19, I have not been enthusiastic about silver. I haven’t “trusted” it enough to encourage a big silver trade, nor called for a major price move. I think there were two reasons.

One, obviously, the nearer-term contracts which I monitor are accurate. They did not show the kind of moves I would expect to see if the market for physical metal was getting so tight. The error only occurred for contracts in 2018. Two, the fundamental gold-silver ratio was correctly calling for a higher market ratio.

Below, I include graphs of the fundamental prices for both metals. The correct values will be overlaid with the ones I have been calculating. So you can see where it went off the rails, and by how far it deviated.

There is one last thing, which I am reluctant to discuss now, before we are ready to launch. Yet it is germane.

Monetary Metals has licensed market data from Thomson Reuters. When the new charts go live, they will be based solely on this data. This data is of better quality than the data from the realtime quote provider I have been using. And we have developed some very sophisticated algorithms that allows us to extract the maximum signal with the least noise, far superior to what my little app does with the data from my current provider.

The new basis and fundamental prices will not line up perfectly with the old data series. One reason is that the bid-ask spread is tighter. By the nature of the math to calculate the basis, tighter spread means a higher basis and higher cobasis.

That said, I am confident of two things. One, the new data is more accurate. And two, the old data set has served well in showing the big picture (notwithstanding the error I corrected this week).

We will look at the only true picture of supply and demand in the gold and silver markets. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. Last week, we asked if the downward-moving gold-silver ratio had hit a line of support. It seems it did, as it moved up sharply on Friday.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

Not much change in the scarcity of gold (i.e. the red line, the cobasis) while the price moved up slightly. Our calculated fundamental price is up $30, to about $1,290.

Let’s take a look at two graphs. Both show enough time to see where the error began to creep in, and where it ends. They are May 3, 2016 through March 31, 2017.

The first is the continuous gold basis, with the erroneous line overlaid with the corrected. As you can see, the erroneous basis was lower (indicating, falsely, lower abundance) and the erroneous cobasis was higher (indicated higher scarcity).

The Reported and Corrected Gold Basis and Cobasis

The second is the market price of gold, overlaid with the erroneous and corrected fundamental prices.

The Reported and Corrected Gold Fundamental Prices

The erroneous one takes off for the stars. The corrected value is much closer to the market price, though a bit above.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

We switched from the May to the July contract, as the May contract is in the process of being rolled (where traders must close positions in May and if they want to keep their positions, open a July or farther-out contract).

There is a small decrease in the basis and increase in cobasis, along with a falling price this week. And our fundamental price is up 14 cents, to just under $16.85. Yes, alas, that is more than a buck under the market.

Here are the same extra two graphs for silver.

The Reported and Corrected Silver Basis and Cobasis

The Reported and Corrected Silver Fundamental Prices

You can see here that there are two salient features. One, the fundamental has been rising for about a month longer than gold, though from a much more volatile bottom ($12.39). Two, the fundamental is way below the market price.

 

© 2017 Monetary Metals

The Balance of Gold and Silver, Report 2 April, 2017

Last week, we discussed the growing stress in the credit markets. We noted this is a reason to buy gold, and likely the reason why gold buying has ticked up since just before Christmas.

Many people live in countries where another paper scrip is declared to be money—to picture the absurdity, just imagine a king declaring that the tide must roll back and not get his feet wet when his throne is placed on the beach—not real money like the US dollar. It should be obvious, but we have seen much disinformation out there promoting the idea that the dollar is collapsing. Most of the time, most of these people buy dollars as the escape hatch from their native currencies.

They buy the dollar first, and gold (for now) is a distant second.

That leads to the question of silver. Do they buy silver in equal measure as gold, or is silver a distant second to gold, as gold is a distant second to the dollar?

Theory tells us that gold is more portable. It is much, much more portable. First, the same weight of gold is about half the volume of silver. A 1oz gold Maple Leaf coin (which is pure gold) is much smaller than a 1oz silver Maple. And right now, the value of an ounce of gold is just about 70 times greater than the value of an ounce of silver. The math works out that the same value of silver is 126X more bulky than gold.

If you are paying for storage, that may be important. It sure is, if you are thinking you may need to carry it on your person. A gold bar worth $120,000 would fit in your trouser pocket (a bit heavy at 3kg, but you could do it). That much silver would be almost 7 of those big bars which are the size of small loaves of bread. Each. All that silver would weigh about as much as two heavyweight boxers.

Gold is also more liquid.

What does the data tell us about demand for silver relative to gold right now?

We will look at that below in the only true picture of supply and demand in the gold and silver markets. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It moved down this week. Is it approaching a line of support?

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

The price of the dollar fell a bit more (this is the inverse of the rising price of gold, measured in dollars, +$14). But look at that move in the cobasis (i.e. the red line, our measure of scarcity). What does it mean when the price of gold rises, but the metal becomes more scarce?

We have been saying for a few weeks that fundamental buying—when people take real metal home, presumably not to bring it back to the market for the foreseeable future—is “sputtering”.  Last week, gold buying this week was biased towards speculation on futures. This week, the bias is back to physical metal.

Our calculated fundamental price of gold is up over $30. It’s just a hair under $200 over the market price. Gold is being offered at a quite a discount.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

Uh oh. We can see immediately, that the cobasis has fallen in silver about 2/3 as much as it rose in gold. Granted, the price of silver rose 2.9% whereas that of gold went up only 0.5%. The speculators were much more aggressive in the silver market, as they often are.

Our calculated silver fundamental price is up about 40 cents, whereas the market price was up 51 cents. The silver fundamental price is now about $0.80 over the market.

Getting back to our question at the top, we can see in the data that people buy first gold when they fear credit stress and default. Speculators can temporarily move the price quite a lot, as they attempt to front-run the market. So, naturally, they are focusing on the silver market as the general rule when gold goes up, silver goes up more. That may be true when central banks’ stimulus efforts are successful in causing an increase in production of goods, including goods that contain silver.

Less so, when metal buyers are not buying to consume but to opt out of the banking system.

There are people who buy silver metal in preference to gold, for example those who cannot afford to buy gold. But at this stage, the balance favors gold.

We calculate a fundamental gold-silver ratio of about 75.8.

 

© 2017 Monetary Metals

Putting Pennies in the Fusebox, Report 26 Mar, 2017

Back in the old days, homes had fuse boxes. Today, of course, any new house is built with a circuit breaker panel and many older homes have been upgraded at one time or another. However, the fuse is a much more interesting analogy for the monetary system.

When a fuse burned out, it was protecting you from the risk of a house fire. Each circuit is designed for only so much current. The problem is that higher current causes more heat, and it can start a fire. So they put fuses in, which burn out before the wire gets hot enough to be dangerous.

The problem is that it’s annoying when a fuse burns out, especially when it’s the last one and the hardware store is far away and/or closed for the weekend. So people all too often put a penny in the place of the fuse. And then, human nature being what it is, they left it there long-term. As an aside, pennies in those days were solid copper, not the copper plated zinc they use today because it’s cheaper.

We would guess that a disproportionate number of house fires were started because an overloaded circuit became overheated, and the protective fuse was replaced with a penny that would keep the juice flowing no matter what.

So, what has that got to do with gold and silver? A penny in the fuse box is a perfect analogy for what President Roosevelt did in 1933. Many believe when he confiscated gold, it was to grab the loot. While we have no doubt that he and his cronies lusted for the gold of the people, he had a more serious purpose.

Until 1933, gold was the core monetary asset in the banking system. When people withdrew their gold coin—redeeming their gold, not buying gold—that forced the bank to sell a bond to raise the gold to redeem depositors. If a bank could not raise enough gold, perhaps because bond prices were going down, then the bank was bankrupt. Another problem is that falling bond prices mean rising interest rates.

Roosevelt was trying to stop the run on the banks, and trying to push interest rates down.

He did stop the run, and interest continued to fall through the end of World War II. However, his act was the monetary equivalent of the penny in the fuse box. In making it illegal to own gold, he made the dollar irredeemable for Americans. Gold is the only financial asset that is not someone else’s liability. Deprived of this outlet, people were forced to be a creditor. The only choice was to lend to the Federal Reserve, the US Treasury, a commercial bank, a corporation, etc.

When people are running to the bank to withdraw their gold coin, it’s like a fuse burning out. You really should find out the root cause when a fuse keeps burning out, and not just jam a solid copper conductor into the circuit. You really should find out why people keep pulling money (i.e. gold) out of the banks, and not just outlaw it.

The reasons were simple. The rate of interest was below the marginal time preference of the savers. This is, of course, the purpose for which any central bank is established: to enable the government and its cronies to borrow more cheaply. And the banks had become unsound (due in no small part to the actions of the Fed taken prior to 1933).

By corralling everyone in the banking system, FDR put a penny in the monetary fusebox. In 1971, President Nixon realized there was one last fuse that could still burn out and thereby signal that all was not well. Americans could not withdraw gold, but foreign governments could. And, led by France, they were doing. So Nixon “closed the gold window”, thereby inserting a second penny.

Now the system was perfect—perfectly irredeemable. Money is credit and credit is money and there is no longer a way for the market to express concerns about either interest rates or soundness. An individual can escape being a creditor if he buys gold (legalized in 1975, after gold was entirely demonetized), but his dollars simply trade hands. The seller of the gold gets the credit-dollars, and the buyer gives them up for the gold. There is zero effect on the banking system (other than causing the price of the dollar to go down).

Unlike the simple and elegant mechanism of the bank run in the gold standard, buying gold is awkward, clunky, and risky for the participants. With dollar-credit no longer being tied to gold, there is a price risk. And of course, price is the motivator for many participants.

Two people, call them Joe and Mary, could both be right that the dollar-credit system is headed towards a crisis. Joe bought at $1,060 in the last week of 2015. Unfortunately, Mary bought at $1,375 in July of 2016. Both bought because of the same reason. But Joe has a big fat gain of $183 and Mary has a loss of $132. This volatility makes people alternatively greedy and fearful, which is not really providing a good signal that the monetary system has problems urgently in need of addressing.

And so the system goes, careening around, from crisis to crisis and nothing gets fixed and there is no signal that is clear to everyone the way a run on the banks is clear.

With this backdrop, we note that the price of gold is on the rise again. Since its low around $1,120 late last year, it has been rising to its current price about $120 above that. What’s more, the fundamentals have been getting stronger at the same time. What could be causing this, and now?

Rising interest rates (which we believe is just a correction in the long falling rates trend) are putting more and more stress on banks and corporations alike. If you have borrowed short to lend long (as all banks do nowadays, this is called “maturity transformation”) then rising rates cause immediate pain. Your cost of funding goes up instantly. However, the interest you earn on long-term bonds does not go up. Instead, the market price of those bonds drops. Equity is disappearing from your balance sheet.

Now consider major corporations, who too often borrowed in the short term bond markets. Their cost of funding is rising. Nearly every carmaker now offers 0% financing to qualified buyers. Their cost to offer this is now obviously much higher than it was a year or two ago. And that does not even count if they had used short-term borrowing to finance those loans, in which case their existing book is bleeding cash too.

This same pressure is occurring anywhere a vendor is financing its customers. The vendor can always try to pass through the increased cost. However, if buying volume was anemic previously with lower interest cost, it will only get worse when this cost goes up.

In the housing market, most people are monthly payment buyers. A higher interest rate means a lower price to get the same payment.

And what happens to lower credit corporations who issue junk bonds? Like most corporations they have to roll over their bonds when mature. So far, rising rates has passed over this market and junk bonds have held up. However, should this tide turn, many of these companies will be forced to default under a deluge of rising interest expense, if not softer demand for their products. They are junk credits for a reason, and higher rates can be the final straw.

Or let’s look at the pension funds. They are already badly underfunded. That is, they are already destined to arrive at terra firma. Many have bought equities and real estate in an attempt to juice up their returns. What happens if the prices of those assets comes down significantly?

Finally, let’s look at municipalities. They derive revenue from home building and turnover of not only homes but home furnishings, remodeling, etc. If these markets slow down significantly, their ability to service their debts is going to be taxed to the limits and beyond.

No wonder people are buying gold. Fundamental demand, as opposed to speculative, is when people buy gold coins and bars, presumably not to bring back to the market soon.

Below, we will show the only true picture of the gold and silver supply and demand. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It moved down this week.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

The price of the dollar fell another 0.3 milligrams gold (this is the inverse of the rising price of gold, measured in dollars, +$14). However, this week, the cobasis (our measure of scarcity) decreased a bit. Gold buying this week was biased towards speculation. Last week, we said fundamental buying was a trend but it’s “sputtering”. This is an example.

Our calculated fundamental price of gold is up $3, or still about $160 over the market price.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

The story is the same in silver. The price rose, a bit more than the price of gold did. With the rising price, we see decreasing scarcity this week.

Our calculated silver fundamental price rose 4 cents, now about $0.85 over the market price.

We leave on a question today. When interest returns to gold and silver, which metal will have the higher rate? We plan to publish something about this soon.

 

© 2017 Monetary Metals

Technical vs. Fundamental, Report 19 Mar, 2017

Every week we talk about the supply and demand fundamentals. We were surprised to see an article about us this week. The writer thought that our technical analysis cannot see what’s going on in the market. We don’t want to fight with people, we prefer to focus on ideas. So let’s compare and contrast ordinary technical analysis with what Monetary Metals does.

Technical analysis, in all of its forms, uses the past price movements to predict the future price movements. In some cases (e.g. momentum analysis) it calculates an intermediate signal from the price signal (momentum is the first derivative of price). But no matter the style, one analyzes price history to guess the next price move.

This is necessarily probabilistic. There is no way to know that a particular price move will follow the chart pattern you see on the screen. There is no certainty. And when it does work, it is often because of self-fulfilling expectations. Since all traders have access to the same charts, and the same chart-reading theories, they can buy or sell en masse when the chart signals them to do so.

We are not here to argue for or against technical analysis. We simply want to say that it’s not what we are doing. Not at all.

Our analysis is based on different ideas. The key idea is that there is a connection between the spot and futures market. That connection is arbitrage. Think of each market as a platform that moves up and down on its own vertical track. The two tracks are close together. And the platforms are connected to each other by a spring. Suppose platform A is a bit above platform B. If you push up on A, then the spring stretches a bit more and will pull B up, though perhaps not as much. The same happens if you push down on B.

Conversely, if you push down on A, then it will compress the spring and platform B will tend to go down, though not as much.

A and B are the futures and spot markets for gold (the same analogy applies to silver). Arbitrage works just like a spring. If the price in the futures market is greater than the price in the spot market, then there is a profit to carry gold—to buy metal in the spot market and sell a futures contract. If the price of spot is higher, then the profit is to be made by decarrying—to sell metal and buy a future.

There are two keys to understanding this. One, when leveraged speculators push up the price of gold futures contracts, then that increases the basis spread. A greater basis is a greater incentive to the arbitrageur to take the trade. Two, when the arbitrageur buys spot and sells a future, the very act of putting on this trade compresses the spread.

If someone were to come along and sell enough futures contracts to push down the price of gold by $50 or $150 or whatever amount is alleged, then this selling would be on futures only. It would push the price of futures below the price of spot, a condition called backwardation.

Backwardation just has not happened at the times when the stories of the big “smash downs” have claimed. Monetary Metals has published intraday basis charts during these events many times.

The above does not describe technical analysis. It describes physics—how the market functions at a mechanical level.

There are other ways to check this. If there was a large naked short position in a contract that was headed into expiry, how would the basis behave? The arbitrage theory predicts the opposite basis move. We will leave the answer out as an exercise for the interested reader, as thinking this through is really good work to understand the dynamics of the gold and silver markets (and you can Google our past articles, where we discuss it).

This check can be observed every month, as either gold or silver has a contract expiring (right now it’s gold, as the April contract is close to First Notice Day).

This week, the prices of the metals both rose. The price of gold is almost back to where it was the prior week, but that of silver is not.

Below, we will show the only true picture of the gold and silver supply and demand. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It moved sideways this week.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

NB: we switched from the April to the June gold contract.

As the price of the dollar fell (inverse of the rising price of gold, measured in dollars) we see the cobasis (our measure of scarcity) increased a bit. This means the buying in gold, which pushed up the price, was buying more of physical than of futures. This seems to be the new pattern of late, though it is sputtering a bit like an engine trying to start up and run at a steady RPM.

Our calculated fundamental price of gold is up nearly $50. It is now over $1,400.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

The story is the same in silver. Rising price accompanied by rising scarcity.

The silver fundamental price rose 50 cents. It is now aboit $1.30 over market.

 

© 2017 Monetary Metals

Why Did Silver Fall, Report 12 Mar, 2017

The question on the lips of everyone who plans to exchange his metal for dollars—widely thought to be money—is why did silver go down? The price of silver in dollar terms dropped from about 18 bucks to about 17, or about 5 percent.

The facile answer is manipulation. With no need of evidence—indeed with no evidence—one can assert this and not be questioned in the gold and silver communities. We have recently come across a term normally used to describe Leftists and Social Justice Warriors, virtue signaling. One piously declares that one supports the cause, one speaks truth to power, one sticks it to The Man, well you get the idea. The concept of virtue signaling seems equally appropriate to those who sing the chorus on every price drop, “manipulation.”

Besides, we have peeps in high places in London and New York and Beijing, and they tell us silver is manipulated…

Actually, we rather prefer to look at data than listen to whispers. What would the data show if demand for physical silver metal was robust and rising while someone sold so many futures contracts that the price of the metal was forced down just about a dollar?

The basis and cobasis are spreads between physical silver metal and futures. The scenario we just described would collapse the basis and skyrocket the cobasis.

Is that what happened this week?

Before we get that, we want to note that crude oil fell from $53.33 last week to $48.49, or -9%. Copper fell from $2.70 to $2.60, or -3.7%. Wheat fell from $4.53 to $4.40, or -2.9%. People miscall this deflation.

We don’t know whether this will affect the Fed’s seeming commitment to damn the economy, full rate hikes ahead. However, we do know that sentiment bleeds from one speculative asset to another (and in a near-zero interest rate environment, all assets are used by speculators). “If energy, industrial metal, and food are going down, then surely silver should go down too,” seems to be the logic.

At least this week.

We are much more interested in the supply and demand fundamentals. We acknowledge that speculators can temporarily move prices—sometimes a lot—but we firmly insist that eventually the market price reverts to the level called for by supply and demand.

So what happened to those fundamentals? Below, we will show the only true picture of the gold and silver supply and demand. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It moved up sharply this week.  If we were chartists, we might note that the ratio seems to be making a series of higher lows since mid-July.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

As the price of the dollar rose through the week, so did the cobasis. The price of the dollar is the inverse of the price of gold in dollar terms, and allows us to see a clearer picture. It is not gold going anywhere, but the dollar going up and down. The cobasis is our indicator of scarcity.

While the dollar went up 0.5mg gold, the cobasis went up 24bps. This is the old pattern, rising gold scarcity as the dollar rises. The same happened in farther contracts, to a smaller degree.

While the market price of gold fell $24, our calculated fundamental price went down only $15. It’s more than $150 over the market price.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

The cobasis in silver actually fell. It didn’t fall a lot, but this drop came in a week when the price fell substantially. This puts the lie to the allegation of manipulation. Selling of futures would push the cobasis up.

Silver fell because owners of metal decided to sell and/or buyers of physical metal slowed their purchases. We can debate why they did that, but not the meaning of the data.

Note also the much lower absolute level of the silver cobasis. Silver is -86bps compared to gold at +8bps (a slight temporary backwardation).

The silver fundamental price also fell, about half as much as the market price. It is now $1.03 over market.

This means that, while those who need to unload their silver are unhappy, those planning to load up can now exchange the same quantity of Federal Reserve Notes for more silver than last week. With (slightly) better fundamentals too, as last week the fundamental was only $0.87 over market.

The only question on that front is the trend. For two weeks, the fundamental has become weaker.

 

© 2017 Monetary Metals

Worried You Might Buy Bitcoin or Gold, Report 5 Mar, 2017

The price of gold has been rising, but perhaps not enough to suit the hot money. Meanwhile, the price of bitcoin has shot up even faster. From $412, one year ago, to $1290 on Friday, it has gained over 200% (and, unlike gold, we can say that bitcoin went up—it’s a speculative asset that goes up and down with no particular limit). Compared to the price action in bitcoin, gold seems boring. While this is a virtue for gold to be used as money (and a vice for bitcoin), it does tend to attract those who just want to get into the hottest casino du jure.

Perhaps predictably, we saw an ad from a gold bullion dealer. This well-known dealer is comparing gold to bitcoin, and urging customers to stick with gold because of gold’s potential for price appreciation. We would not recommend this argument. Whatever the merits of gold may be, going up faster than bitcoin is not among them.

We spotted an ad today from a mainstream financial adviser. The ad urged clients not to buy gold. This firm should have little need to worry. Stocks have been in a long, long, endless, forever, never-to-end bull market. Gold is not doing anything exciting now. $1234? “WhatEVAH (roll eyes)!” Stocks, well, the prices just keep on going up. Like we said, nothing whatsoever to worry about. Other than declining dividend yields. There’s more than enough irony to go around.

Speaking of dividend yield, that leads us to an idea. Readers know that we like to compare the yield of one investment to another. This is why we quote the basis as an annualized percentage. You can compare basis to LIBOR easily. And also stocks. Or anything else.

For example, the basis for December—a maturity of well under a year—is 1.2%. The dividend yield of the S&P stocks is just 1.9%. For that extra 70bps, you are taking a number of known risks, and some unknown risks too.

It is worth noting that the yield on the 10-year Treasury is up to 2.5%. Yes, that’s right, you are paid less for the risk of investing in big corporations than you are for holding the risk free asset. Of course, the Treasury bond is not really risk free. But in any case, if the Treasury defaults then it’s safe to assume most corporations will be destroyed, if not our whole civilization.

We have heard the mainstream theory so many times, our heads are hurting. Here are the myths: the Chinese are selling, inflation is coming, and the economy is picking up.

China is selling. The Chinese people are selling the yuan to buy dollars. When they can get through the increasingly-strict capital controls. The People’s Bank of China takes the other side of the trade—selling dollars and buying yuan—to keep the yuan from collapsing. When a foreign central bank holds dollars, it does not hold paper notes. Nor does it deposit them in a commercial bank. It holds Treasury bonds. Its sales of Treasurys may look scary, but that is just the seen. The unseen is that the Chinese people are buying dollars. Those dollars come back to the Treasury market one way or the other.

Inflation is coming. The Fed is printing, the quantity of money is going up, there will be demand-pull, etc. Well, if that were true then the last place you would want to be is in an asset whose price is set by the net present value of its future free cash flows. Or at least the price should be. If you think that stock prices have to rise in inflationary periods, look at what happened in the 1970’s.

The economy is picking up. What can we say? There are two views on this. One has seen (or looked for) green shoots and nascent recoveries since the crisis. The other has seen rising asset prices, and with that a small wealth effect. We will not opine about Trump and the future of the economy here. We just wish to note that junk bonds have not sold off the way Treasurys have. Junk bonds have hardly sold off at all.

Quite the opposite. They have been massively bid up (i.e. yield has been crushed). We submit for your consideration that if inflation was coming and/or the economy was picking up, you would do even worse in junk bonds than in S&P stocks.

The 10-year Treasury hit its low yield (so far) of 1.3% in July. Since then, it has been a wild ride mostly up to 2.6% in December. Since then it’s been choppy but falling (i.e. prices rising a bit).

July also happens to be when the yield on the Swiss 10-year government bond began rising. It made a low of -0.6% (yes, negative). Since then, the yield has gone up (i.e. bond price has gone down) to near zero in December. It is currently -0.1%.

In Japan, the same occurred. Low yield on the 10-year government bond in July was -0.3%. High was hit in December. Still elevated now, but off the December high.

It’s almost as if government bond yields around the world were moved by the same drivers, or even connected by some kind of arbitrage…

Whatever the cause of this worldwide selloff of government bonds may be, it is not selling by China. It is not inflation. It is not expectations that the economy will take off under Trump.

Maybe it’s just traders looking at price charts, buying because stocks are going up?

This week, the prices of the metals dropped. As always, the question is what happened to the fundamentals?

Below, we will show the only true picture of the gold and silver supply and demand. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It moved sideways again this week.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

This week, our old friend returned. He is the correlation between the price of the gold (i.e. inverse of the price of gold in dollar terms) and the cobasis (i.e. our scarcity indicator). They had been moving together.

This week, they met up for old time’s sake. The dollar is up from 24.75mg gold to 25.20mg. And the cobasis is up from -0.41% to -0.16%. At least in the April contract which is rapidly approaching First Notice Day, and already under downward pressure. For farther contracts, the cobasis is up, but not that much.

Our calculated fundamental price dipped twenty bucks. It’s still $150 over the market price.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

The cobasis in silver move up big-time as well.

The silver fundamental price also fell, about fifteen cents.

 

© 2017 Monetary Metals

Curious Gold-Silver Ratio That Did Not Fall, Report 26 Feb, 2017

This holiday-shortened week (Monday was President’s Day in the US), the price of the dollar fell. In gold, it fell almost half a milligram to 24.75mg, and prices in silver it dropped 30mg, to 1.7 grams of the white monetary metal. Flipped upside down, gold went up 23 notes from the Federal Reserve, and silver appears to go up by 41 cents.

Below, we will show the only true picture of the gold and silver supply and demand fundamentals. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It moved sideways again this week, which would normally be odd for a time when the prices of the metals are rising.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

For a very long time, we would post graphs that looked almost the same. Oh, the specifics of month, price, and basis would be different. But they had a certain sameness. The price of the dollar (i.e. inverse of the price of gold, in dollar terms) would move along with the cobasis (i.e. scarcity of gold). So as the dollar would rise (i.e. the price of gold would fall), the scarcity would rise. And vice versa. This means changes in price were due to changes in behavior by speculators.

And now we have a clear picture of … the opposite. The dollar has been falling since mid-December. And for that same time, the cobasis (scarcity of gold) has been rising.

Yes, gold has been getting scarcer as it becomes pricier.

How could this be possible? Doesn’t the law of supply and demand work for gold? You know, the standard “X” graph from Econ. 101?

Gold has several unique properties. One is that it is not purchased for consumption, but for monetary reserves or jewelry (which in most of the world is monetary reserves). Contrast that to copper which is purchased by plumbing manufacturers to make pipe. It’s a competitive market, and if the price of copper plumbing goes up too much then home builders will switch to plastic. Demand drops as price rises. Also, the marginal copper mine will increase production. Supply rises as price rises. It is self-correcting.

Gold, not being bought to consume, does not have a limit to demand as price rises. If anything a rising price (i.e. a falling currency) signals to people that holding gold is a good thing. They were wise to get out of their falling paper currency, and should consider buying more gold.

Also, virtually all of the gold ever mined in human history is still in human hands. All of this gold is potential supply, at the right price and under the right conditions. Even if gold mining worked like copper mining, and miners could just produce more, changes in mine production at the margin are not material to the overall gold supply. By official estimates, the total inventory of gold would take over 70 years to be produced at current mine production rates (and we believe this is a low estimate).

Readers may object that this question is a bit unfair, as any commodity can experience rising tightness and that will accompany its rising price for a while until the market can correct itself. That is true, but what we are looking at in gold is not that at all. When the market corrects itself—which we think is very likely, we do not see Armageddon just yet—it will not be because gold miners have cranked up their outputs, nor because gold users have substituted another metal. There is no substitute for monetary reservation, particularly as paper currencies are in the terminal stages of failure.

Our calculated fundamental price is now up to almost $1,400.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price

The trend of falling dollar (i.e. rising price of silver) and rising cobasis (scarcity) is here in silver, too, but it’s weaker.

Silver does not quite have the same stocks to flows ratio as gold, but it has far and away a higher ratio than copper or any ordinary commodity. That is why silver is the other monetary metal.

The fundamental price of silver is now up to about $18.70. While this is over the market price of the metal, it’s not nearly so much above as gold.

This is why we calculate a fundamental on the gold-silver ratio over 74.

 

© 2017 Monetary Metals

Don’t Short This Dog, Report 20 Feb, 2017

This week, the prices of the metals mostly moved sideways. There was a rise on Thursday but it corrected back to basically unchanged on Friday.

This will again be a brief Report, as yesterday was a holiday in the US.

Below, we will show the only true picture of the gold and silver supply and demand fundamentals. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver
letter feb 20 prices

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It moved sideways this week.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price
letter feb 20 ratio

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price
letter feb 20 gold

The price was unchanged, but the basis is up slightly and cobasis is down (i.e. gold became slightly more abundant). This is not the news dollar shorters (i.e. those betting on the gold price) want to see.

Our calculated fundamental price is all but unchanged around $1,360.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price
letter feb 20 silver

In silver, the basis is basically unchanged but the cobasis went up a bit. The silver market got just a bit tighter, and our calculated fundamental price is up more than 30 cents to about a quarter above the market price. Not exactly “bet the farm with leverage territory”, but definitely not “short this dog” either.

Watch this space. We have some exciting data science to reveal soon.

 

© 2016 Monetary Metals

Silver Futures Market Assistance, Report 12 Feb, 2017

This week, the prices of the metals moved up on Monday. Then the gold price went sideways for the rest of the week, but the silver price jumped on Friday. Is this the rocket ship to $50? Will Trump’s stimulus plan push up the price of silver? Or just push silver speculators to push up the price, at their own expense, again?

This will again be a brief Report this week, as we are busy working on something new and big. And Keith is on the road, in New York and Miami.

Below, we will show the only true picture of the gold and silver supply and demand fundamentals. But first, the price and ratio charts.

The Prices of Gold and Silver
letter feb 12 prices

Next, this is a graph of the gold price measured in silver, otherwise known as the gold to silver ratio. It fell this week.

The Ratio of the Gold Price to the Silver Price
letter feb 12 ratio

For each metal, we will look at a graph of the basis and cobasis overlaid with the price of the dollar in terms of the respective metal. It will make it easier to provide brief commentary. The dollar will be represented in green, the basis in blue and cobasis in red.

Here is the gold graph.

The Gold Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price
letter feb 12 gold

Again, we see a higher price of gold (shown here in its true form, a lower price of the dollar) along with greater scarcity (i.e. cobasis, the red line).

This pattern continues. What does it mean?

First, it means the price of gold is being pushed up by buyers of physical metal. Not by buyers of futures (which would push up the basis, and reduce scarcity).

Second, if it continues too much more, it means nothing good for the banking system. There is one force that can make all the gold in the world—which mankind has been accumulating for thousands of years—disappear faster than you can say “bank bail in”. The force is fear of counterparties, fear of banks, fear of currencies, fear of central bank balance sheets… fear of government finances.

We want to emphasize that the gold basis is not signaling disaster at the moment. It is merely moving in that direction, for the first time in a long time. It has a ways to go yet.

Our calculated fundamental price is up another $40 (on top of last week’s +$40). It is now about $130 over the market price.

Now let’s look at silver.

The Silver Basis and Cobasis and the Dollar Price
letter feb 12 silver

Note: we switched to the May contract, as March was becoming unusable in its approach to expiry.

In silver, the story is a bit less compelling. The scarcity of the metal is holding, as the price rises. However, scarcity is not increasing.

Were we to take a guess, we would say there is some good demand for physical, and the price action had futures market assistance.

While the market price moved up 44 cents, our calculated fundamental price moved up … 46 cents.

 

© 2016 Monetary Metals