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Silver Backwardation Bout Ends as SLV Fails to Announce its New Custodian (PART 2/2)

By: Jake Towne

-- Posted 30 March, 2009 | | Discuss This Article - Comments:

This article and charts is an update to an earlier article "18 Days and Counting - Silver Backwardation Persists in the London Market Place". In "Silver and Gold ARE Money (PART 1/2)", I charged that both silver and gold are money and shared information on the very important concept of gold's "stocks-to-flow" ratio and the size of the LBMA markets for both metals.

[In case you do not yet understand futures markets, "backwardation" means that silver to be delivered today is now being priced higher than metal to be delivered later. This article refers to the LBMA, or London Bullion Market Association's futures market in London, England. For more details on backwardation, please refer to my five-part December series which starts here "The End for the Dollar and all Fiat Currencies (1/5)". Contango is the opposite of backwardation and exists when futures price is higher than the spot price as I explained for those new to futures terminology here "The Money Matrix - What the Heck Are Derivatives? (PART 10/15)". [As you read, please also note that I am NOT a commodities trader, I am just an engineer by trade, so feel free to help me out with my analysis or mistakes.] ( Photo) (2)

As we learned in "The Significance of Gold Backwardation Explained (4/5)", backwardation is a sign of a very tight market, and a market that will be tight for sometime into the future either 1) current supply is very tight, 2) future supply is projected to be very tight, or 3) there is a severe distrust in counterparties that the short positions can deliver the goods on time per the contract, or vice versa that the long positions will not have the cash.

Please refer to the below graphs of LBMA's silver mid rate, which is the midway point between the bid and offer prices. Here is what I note:

  • Silver was in backwardation for the 47 trading days since January 21. On March 27, silver finally dipped out of backwardation.

  • Most of this backwardation period was about three times more severe than the mild backwardation than existed from December 8 through December 24 in 2008.

  • Although this backwardation was very long – most likely the longest in LBMA history – it was relatively mild. The 1-month contract was the most severe, but its average level of backwardation was only -0.20%, or about $3 USD per 1000 oz bar.

  • Also, the disparity between the rates seen in 2006-2007 has largely disappeared; the market appears to be treating a trade on silver 12 months later as quite similar to a trade on silver 1 month later.




[All graphs in this article were created by me from this LBMA source and this US Mint source and my file is available by request.]

Let's now also look at the LBMA Silver Fix price history for a 1000 troy ounce bar. Despite all of the tightness in the market as demonstrated by the SIFO chart, the Dollar price of silver is still well below the average price for 2006-2008, while the Pound is nearing a new high due to the FOREX market. The Pound price reached £995 within 5% of its March 2008 high. The current dollar price of $13.22/oz. is 37% below its $20.92/oz. high. From the chart, I speculate the Pound price may have been surreptitiously "capped" at £1000, or perhaps is a psychological barrier, similar to gold's three recent tries at $1000/oz.


Let's now take a quicker look at gold traded at LBMA. The GOFO, or Gold Forward Offered Rate, represents the rates at which dealers will lend gold on a swap basis against US dollars. From the below charts, I note:

  • Recently, gold has only gone into minor backwardation once, in November 2008, for 3 days.

  • As GOFO started its plummet in roughly September 2007, the prices began to diverge, and currently the 1-month GOFO rate is lower than the 12-month rate.

  • The buckling of the British pound can be easily seen. The British pound set an all-time high of £690 per ounce of gold on February 23, 2009.

  • The Euro set an all-time high of 782 Euros per ounce of gold on February 23, 2009 as well.

  • Gold priced in Dollars is 10% below its 2008 high of $1,023, as of March 27.


It is simply too early to tell if we have seen the "Last Contango," but as Dr. Fekete notes in "The Last Contango in Washington" (2006) and "Keeping Our Eyes Peeled for the Silver and Gold Basis" (2007), the consequences could be very stark for the dollar and hence all fiat currencies.

Now, of course, there are many other factors as silver guru Theodore Butler points out in "Tightening Production". Industrial demand has been slammed by the economic fallout. However, since about 70% of all silver is typically mined as a by-product with other base metals like zinc, the supply is also greatly affected by the market conditions of zinc, copper, lead, and nickel. While the backlog in demand has greatly increased the inventories of these base metals causing a drop in their prices the inventory of silver is growing smaller while the price has increased over the past three months from $10 to $13/oz. Butler also relates that many of the base metal mines have been closing due since they are no longer profitable. At the same time, Butler reports that the American COMEX silver futures market is under investigation by the CFTC (Commodities and Futures Trading Commission) for market manipulation and price suppression. It is also possible the London market backwardation is temporary due to the severe loss of purchasing power (relative to others) of the British pound.

[For the Reader, NYMEX Gold Session Futures chart, Silver Session Futures chart. Gold spot price chart. Silver spot price chart. When the spot price is greater than the futures price, backwardation exists.]

There is some debate about whether backwardation is bullish for gold and silver. Due to the aboveground stocks-to-flow ratio of 60 years stock to 1 year of mine production, I maintain that LBMA backwardation in gold in is not only a bullish signal, but, more importantly it is blaring siren signaling trust in the Dollar is being lost. Since the aboveground stocks-to-flow ratio of silver (1.5) is more typical of other commodities and industrial metals, LBMA silver backwardation is also bullish, for the commodity but may not be as relevant to the Dollar unless the reasons for the backwardation are clearly understood. Up to roughly 12%, or 81 million troy ounces of silver are currented effected by strikes or slowdowns at Penoles, Hochschild's, and Doe Run. As an amateur, I do not claim to know to what degree each of the aforementioned three possible causes (tight current supply, tight future supply, or counterparty distrust) effected the backwardation although the Pound's recent relative devaluation and possible "capping" at £1000.  My educated guess is tight future supply combined with FOREX declines are the dominant factors, but I please remember I also subscribe to the price suppression theories of GATA and Ted Butler.  However we can look at what happened to the price of silver and gold during each of the three backwardation periods from 2006-2009 and we can see that backwardation has caused significant increases each time.

In addition to the annual supply-demand figures put together by the World Gold Council and the Silver Institute, another interesting item is US Mint-issued gold and silver bullion sales. As can be seen by the below, the 2008 gold demand quadrupled from its 2007 level, while silver demand doubled. In 2009 YTD, gold is on track to beat the 2008 mark, and silver demand is on track for roughly 24 million ounces, which would shatter its 2008 record level.


The inventory of SLV has leapt from 218 million ounces since January 1st, and reached 267 million ounces on March 26. This exceeds the limit of 264 Moz that the trust had set for the custodian, JP MorganChase (one of the "Pirates of the COMEX" as GATA's Adrian Douglas recently wrote about here). In the new prospectus (pg 8/44), the text reads:

The custodian has no obligation to accept any additional delivery on behalf of the trust if, after giving effect to such delivery, the total amount of the trust’s silver held by the custodian exceeds 264,550,265 troy ounces. If this limit is exceeded, it is anticipated that the trustee, with the consent of the sponsor, will retain an additional custodian... As a result, the new agreement may differ from the current one with JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A., London branch, with respect to issues like duration, fees, maximum amount of silver that the additional custodian will hold on behalf of the trust, scope of the additional custodian’s liability and the additional custodian’s standard of care.

I have not been able to find out who SLV has named as the new custodian.  My flat-out guess is the new custodian will be HSBC since as Douglas highlights, they are the other big player in the paper gold and silver market.

For many reasons, I view SLV and GLD with distrust.  The Central Fund of Canada (third-party storage of gold and silver, CEF) and Central Gold-Trust (GTU, gold bullion only) are two ETF's you could also check out, as well as and  GTU and CEF currently traded at significant premiums compared to the spot price of the amount of bullion they store.  Physical metal can even be placed into an IRA and stored by a third party. All I can say on any of these options is to be VERY careful, there is no simply substitute for physical gold and silver in hand or even stored at a Brinks-type depository or safety deposit box. I view all of the above as simply ways to diversify storage.

As far as the immediate future, in manipulated markets it is impossible to tell.  Long-term, it is my belief the current fiat monetary system will fail, and this depression will likely not end until this occurs. Antal Fekete recently warned the quantitative easing phase of this Gold War could take quite a long time, but please prepare yourself and your family.

Let me close with a quote from Thomas Paine's "Dissertations on Government."

"When an assembly undertakes to issue paper as money, the whole system of safety and certainty is overturned, and property set afloat. Paper notes given and taken between individuals as a promise of payment is one thing, but paper issued by an assembly as money is another thing. It is like putting an apparition in the place of a man; it vanishes with looking at it, and nothing remains but the air."

For the Republic,

Jake Towne, the Champion of the Constitution

-- Posted 30 March, 2009 | | Discuss This Article - Comments:

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