19 July 2011

Why Won’t Sprott Buy More Silver For PSLV and crash COMEX?

Update 25 July: I contacted Sprott Asset Management and they clarified that they could do a PSLV secondary at any time however the time lag for SEC clearance (possibly up to 45 days) of a new prospectus would allow traders to frontrun the placement. Once the one year public period has passed they would be able to do an overnight deal in which case there would be no frontrunning. Sprott Asset Management reiterated that they would not do a deal that would have a material impact on PSLV’s premium.

Update 20 July: I've been informed that Sprott can't do a shelf offering until his fund is one year old, which it won't be for many months yet and that Sprott said at the Vancouver Resource Conference that he would not do anything to hurt the resulting premium in the fund. That answers the question in my post title. I've left the rest of the post below as is. I'd still suggest that he consider structuring additional offerings in a way that would put some pressure on the market. Buying silver via forwards may not be best way to do it.

Kid Dynamite has come out all guns blazing in his latest post. His post goes into detail into a point I raised in my last post - why isn't Sprott doing secondary share issues for his silver fund?

He has a point. By not issuing more shares in the face of demand, all that happens is investors are paying $120 for $100 worth of silver. This means $20 worth of silver is NOT being bought and taken off the market, which takes pressure off the bullion banks.

The response that if he did a secondary that it would reduce the premium, hurting the existing investors, is valid. But the point is he shouldn't have allowed that situation to develop in the first place. [see update below] Now he is caught. By not wanting to hurt existing investors he is diverting silver demand AWAY from taking physical off the market INTO just bidding up the premium.

In any case, I would counter the "reduce premium" argument by suggesting that Sprott could do the secondary in a way as to probably cause no loss to existing holders. Consider that PSLV has 22.3 million ounces. A 20% premium suggests there is at least demand for 4.46 million ounces (20% of 22.3moz). I think most would agree, however, that he could do a secondary for double that given the profile and trustworthyness of his fund.

COMEX has registered stocks of 26.8moz. Consider if Sprott slowly bought 8.92moz of silver futures and then stood for delivery. That is ONE THIRD of the entire COMEX stock. What do you think that would do to the price of silver when Sprott and others assert that the physical market is currently so tight? Those that believe this would have to expect that you'd get a price increase that would easily cover any decrease in PSLV's premium.

And the argument that Sprott shouldn't do it because COMEX would cash settle does not hold water. Even if the cash settlement price is below the current "real" physical price, it would still probably be above his purchase price (as silver is in a bull market). In any case, if his actions were able to cause such a significant and high profile failure to deliver, then the resulting price move really would be "explosive", producing a profit on his existing silver holdings that would cover any loss (if any) on the cash settlement of his futures contracts, and benefitting existing PSLV holders to boot.

It is a win win: if COMEX delivers they take a huge hit to their stocks, if they don't, the price gets a huge hit to the upside. Personally I don't think it would play out this way. Bullion banks would source silver to deliver into the Sprott contract and thus maintain COMEX stocks. But that is just a theory. Until someone with the capability to make such a move does it, it is all talk, both on my side and theirs.

17 July 2011

Turnover and Fractional Memes

I recently listened to an interview between Eric Sprott and Chris Martenson. Eric has a very good line in spin playing to the themes beloved by the 'bugs. Deconstructing them requires more time than I have at the moment, but this comment I can't leave:

"... I think all the paper markets are a joke. As you are probably aware, we trade a billion ounces of silver a day. A billion ounces. The world produces 900 million a year."

There are many falsehoods in the precious metal commentary "market" but I'm surprised Eric is supporting the idea that large turnover figures are suspicious, which I debunked in this post. He should be careful supporting this meme as it can just as easily apply to his own funds, particularly his silver fund as he seems not interested in doing any secondaries (in contrast to his gold fund).

The suspicious turnover meme is often confused with fractional bullion banking, an example being this comment by The Burning Platform:

“Several competent analysts have worked the numbers (including Bill Murphy and Chris Powell of GATA), and have come to the conclusion that for every ounce of silver in known inventories there are approximately 100 paper contracts trading (a fractional bullion system, if you will) on various exchanges across the globe.”

My response below:

1) My understanding is that the 100:1 figure did not come from “analysis” but from a statement made by CPM Group’s Mr Christian. See here. I would be very interested in independent analysis coming to the 100:1 figure that did not rely on Mr Christian’s comment, please provide links.

2) Mr Christian’s comments were confused by many as a statement about the ratio of fractional bullion banking instead of paper to physical trading ratio, which are two completely different things. GATA’s Adrian Douglas did an analysis that concluded the fractional ratio was 4:1. That analysis had serious flaws in my opinion (see here but in the end it was too conservative, with Mr Christian confirming it is generally 10:1 (40:1 in the case of AIG).

13 July 2011

Pan Asian Gold Exchange Hype

The new Pan Asian Gold Exchange (PAGE) has got Andrew Maguire into hyper mode claiming that it "will ultimately destroy the remaining short positions in both gold and silver" and "in very short order affect current precious metals price discovery dynamics." This all based on his wishful thinking that "if just 1% of their [Agricultural Bank of China] customers bought a single 10 ounce contract, that would equate to 1,000 tons of physical gold being drawn down."

As Kid Dynamite comments in a FT Alphaville article on Maguire "a 10 ounce contract is worth well more than the average annual income in China, right? There was a stat recently that 40% of Americans couldn't come up with $2k if they needed it for emergency bills... I wonder what % of Chinese can afford to buy 10 ounces worth of gold?" I tend to agree. While it is always positive to have more ways people can buy gold, if you think that "this new gold and silver exchange has flown under the radar" of the big short players like Andrew does, then you are severely underestimating them, at your cost.

It reminds me of the hype that circulated some time back about the new vault in Hong Kong (by the way, what happened to all that metal was that clients were supposedly going to pull out of London and move to Asia, bringing down the LBMA?) Anyway, the impression (meme?) given by that story and the spin on PAGE is that there are few exchanges/markets around the world apart from the "fake" COMEX and London. Certainly, the story is that there are few places where "real" prices for physical metal can be found. In respect of that, you may find this list of gold markets from Sharelynx a useful reality check:

US- New York Open Outcry; Electronic Trading CME
UK- London LBMA
China - Shanghai SGE; SHFE
India - Mumbai NCDEX; MCX; NMCE
Indonesia - Jakarta JFX; ICDX
Japan - Tokyo TOCOM
Pakistan - Islamabad NCEL
Turkey - Istanbul IGE
United Arab Emirates - Dubai DGCX
Europe EUREX
Nepal - Kathmandu MEX
Russia - Moscow RTS
Singapore SICOM
South Africa - Johannesburg JSE
Taiwan - Taipei TAIFEX
Thailand - Bangkok TFEX
Brazil BMF

Between these, the 25+ ETFs that Sharelynx also tracks daily, and retail bullion dealers, I'd say it isn't too difficult for investors to buy gold these days. China certainly hasn't had access to these methods of buying gold to-date, but by the amount of physical metal we've seen being shipped into China over the past few years, I don't think Chinese investors (savers, more like) have had any problems getting all the gold they need.