There is no doubt that speculative dollars have been flowing into the silver market. We note that in April record trading volumes were registered in the SLV, Comex futures, LBMA transfers, and the Shanghai Gold Exchange futures. In fact, converting the average daily trading volume in the aforementioned silver instruments to the amount of ounces of silver they are supposed to represent, there were on average, over 1.1 billion ounces worth of silver traded every day in the month of April. Truly a staggering number when contrasted against the actual amount of silver available for investment. To wit, the world will only supply about 979 million ounces this year from mine and recycling of scrap, of which it is estimated that 657 million ounces will be used up for non-investment purposes. So in effect, that leaves roughly only 322 million ounces available this year for investment purposes. Converting to days (recall that at least 1.1 billion ounces traded each day) it leaves only about 1.3 million ounces per trading day of available supply. So, we are essentially trading the amount of physical silver actually available for investment, 891 times over each day! It really begs the question; just what are people trading in these markets?

Consider the largest and most prominent of those markets – the Comex, which we believe has owned an effective monopoly on silver price discovery for decades. In fact, the Comex churned over 800 million ounces of silver futures and options on average each day in April. Indeed, notwithstanding the massive but very opaque over-the-counter silver derivatives market, trading on the Comex dwarfs both the physical and the other (known) paper silver markets, combined. Despite its dynamics being relatively complex and generally not well understood by most, the world’s financial community continues to view trading on the Comex as representative of the fundamentals for the physical silver markets. A market built on a high amount of leverage, both the buyers and sellers of Comex futures and options contracts are able to establish a position in “silver” with pennies on the dollar in collateral and even more astonishingly, no physical silver backing the contracts at all.

We believe the historical trend of rising open interest and falling inventories deserves considerable attention from anyone attempting to understand the silver market. And though we do note that since October 2010 the trend of rising open interest appears to have abated, the inventories have been evaporating steadily and thus the ratio of the two measures has continued to trend higher. In fact, since 2009 the ratio of paper silver to physical silver has increased fourfold from approximately 8 times to almost 33 times, where it stands today.

What is the significance of this discord between paper and physical supply on the Comex? Recall, that over 800 million ounces traded each day in April on that market. Further, consider that as of the end of April there were only 33 million ounces of registered inventories to back up all of that paper trading. Just imagine if a mere 5% of all of that buying actually stood for delivery; the entire inventories would be more than wiped out. Yet despite the steady erosion of these already scant Comex inventories – a characteristic, which would surely be interpreted as most bullish in other commodity markets – the price of silver has actually declined since April. We endeavour to provide a framework for understanding this phenomenon below.

Those who were following the developments in the silver market in April and May (we note that there were many who were) will likely recall that the CME Group raised both initial and maintenance margins five times within less than a two week span effectively raising the minimum amount of capital required to participate in the silver futures market by 84%. This is significant due to the amount of leverage in the futures market and also due to the losses resulting from the precipitous selloff which began on Sunday, May 1st, when several thousand contracts were wantonly dumped onto the very thinly traded after-hours silver futures market causing the silver price to plunge 13% within the span of less than 15 minutes.

Let there be no mistake, we view the current setup as extremely bullish. In our view, whatever froth and excess was present in the paper markets has likely been shaken out in the recent selloff. The remaining longs do not seem willing to part with their silver at these prices. These are the strong hands with longer time horizons that are likely not overly leveraged or are willing and able to withstand substantial volatility. Moreover, perhaps the “game” on the paper silver markets which has been meticulously documented over decades by Ted Butler and others, will soon be coming to an end.

What is perhaps most important is that despite what has recently transpired in the paper silver markets, the robust demand fundamentals for silver have not changed in our view. For confirmation of this, look no further than the physical silver market (i.e. the real silver market), which is providing us with evidence almost daily of a sustained bull market for physical silver. The US Mint recently stated that, “demand for American Silver Eagle Coins remains at unprecedented high levels.” Likewise for the Perth Mint, the Austrian Mint, and the Royal Canadian Mint as well. The Chinese, who were net exporters of silver only four years ago, imported 300% more silver in 2010 than 2009 and such large quantities of imports, are expected to continue. Last year, Indian silver imports increased nearly six-fold, and this year consumption is expected to rise nearly 43% according to the Bombay Bullion Association. In Utah, silver (along with gold, of course) will now be accepted in weight value as legal tender21. According to Hugo Salinas-Price, a prominent Mexican billionaire, there is now “very strong support for the monetization of silver” in the Mexican congress. We suspect the Europeans are likely to account for an increasing amount of silver purchases going forward as well. In fact, we just can’t imagine a better outlook for silver fundamentals. This really makes us question who could be short such massive quantities of silver and why? Particularly in those leveraged paper silver markets, where as we demonstrated, only a fraction of the outstanding notional ounces are actually available in physical quantity.

We have a very tough time understanding those bearish arguments against silver. We look at the real silver market, and based on the supply and demand data coming from the real, physical markets for silver, the fundamentals are only getting stronger. And yet there exists another silver market, which as we’ve shown, is not very connected to the physical realm at all. And though silver investors have for decades suffered the tyranny of a rigged paper monopoly over silver price discovery, it appears to us that the tides are turning. In the age of QE to infinity, investors are being more scrupulous with their capital and as such they are demanding physical silver in quantity. With more and more dollars flowing into the silver markets and a finite supply of physical to meet that demand, the theoretical losses for the paper silver short-sellers are near infinite. And with such a skewed and obvious risk/reward payoff vastly favouring the longs, we pose the following question. Who is most at risk in the silver markets: the buyers of a scarce and real asset that serves a growing multitude of purposes, or the sellers, who are short a quantity of silver which may very well not even be obtainable at anywhere near current prices? Let the Seller Beware!