The Silver Lining: Part II
This continues Chapter 10 of my new book How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Year in the 21st Century. It completes the my last posting on the Kitco website.
Silver is a ubiquitous and essential industrial metal with literally thousands of uses, many of which are irreplaceable. Jim Cook,President of Investment Rarities (800-328-1860), has recently listed just a few of silver’s thousands of modern uses, many of which are infinitesimal in amounts per unit, but multiplied by many millions of units, it’s thousands of tons of silver. (I can’t vouch for each one of these statements, but at least most of them are true).
Both rechargeable and disposable batteries are manufactured with silver alloys. Billions of silver oxide-zinc batteries are supplied to the world’s market yearly, including batteries for watches,cameras and small electronic devices,tools and TV cameras.
Steel bearings are often electroplated with high-purity silver. Silver solder facilitates the joining of materials. Silver-brazing alloys are used in air conditioning, refrigeration, power distribution, automobiles and airplanes.
Silver is of first importance to plumbers, appliance manufacturers, and electronics.
Chemical reactions use silver as a catalyst; approximately 700 tons of silver are in continuous use in the production of plastics.
Silver is essential for producing a class of plastics which includes adhesives, laminated resins for construction, plywood, particle board finishes, paper and electronic equipment, textiles, surface coating, dinner ware, buttons, casings for appliances, handles and knobs, packaging materials, automotive parts, and electrical insulation materials.
Silver is necessary for producing soft plastics used in polyester textiles. It is used for molded items, for insulating-handles for stoves, and for computers, electrical control knobs and Mylar tape(which makes up 100% of audio, VCR and other types of recording tapes). It is also used to produce antifreeze.
Silver is used in commemorative and proof coins around the world. There is wide silver use in silverware, jewelry and the decorative arts.
Silver is the best electrical conductor of all metals and is used in contacts and fuses and ordinary household wall switches. The use of silver for motor controls is universal in the home, and is even a better conductor of electricity than copper. All of the electrical appliances, timers, thermostats, and some pumps, use silver contacts. A typical washing machine requires 16 silver contacts. A fully-equipped automobile may have more than 40 silver-tipped switches.
Silver relays are used in washing machines, dryers, automobile accessories, vacuum cleaners, electric drills, elevators, escalators, machine tools, locomotives, marine diesel engines and oil-drilling motors. It is also used for circuit breakers. It is widely used in electronics, membrane switches, electrically heated automobile windows and conductive adhesives.
Every time you turn on a microwave oven, a dishwasher, clothes washer or TV set, you have activated a switch with silver contacts. The majority of computers use silver-membrane switches. They are used for cable television, telephones, microwave ovens, learning toys and keyboards of typewriters and computers and in prepaid-toll gizmos. These silver-containing , radio-frequency-identification devices will soon make an appearance, imbedded in credit cards and passports.
Silver is used in circuit boards and is essential to electronics to control the operation of aircraft, car engines, electrical appliances,security systems, telecommunication networks, mobile telephones and TV receivers.
Silver is used in windshields in General Motors all-purpose vehicles because it reflects some 70% of the solar energy. Every automobile produced in America has a silver ceramic line in the rear window to clear the frost and ice.
Silver plating is used in Christmas tree ornaments, cutlery and hollow ware. Because it is virtually 100%-reflective after polishing, it is used in mirrors and coating for glass, cellophane and metals.
A transparent coating of silver is used on double-paned thermal windows.
Silver has a variety of uses in pharmaceuticals. Silver sulfadiazine is the most powerful compound for burn treatment worldwide. Catheters impregnated with silver diazine eliminate bacteria. It’s increasingly being tapped for its bactericidal properties from severe burns to Legionnaire’s Disease to dressings for wounds.
One out of every seven pairs of prescription sunglasses incorporates silver. Silver-based photography has superior definition and low cost; it is still the biggest user of silver.
Digital photography is considered by many to be a threat to old-fashioned film photography, which at one time was the biggest user of silver, as digital cameras are becoming the camera of choice for millions of people. Ergo, physical silver use will decline in the film business, and that is considered by many to be a bearish factor. Kodak was at one time the world’s largest user of silver in manufacturing film. Because they used silver in every roll of film in the ‘70s, silver photographic use was touted as one reason for the silver bull market of the ‘70s.
There is a counter argument, and a counter, counter argument.
It is not generally known, but much of the silver used in film is recycled to be used again by the film companies. That is also true of silver in medical x-rays.
But more than offsetting this is the fact that silver is also used in glossy photographic print paper at Wal-Mart, Kmart and Costco and other supermarkets, for people to print out their digital photos, and that paper is never recycled. One of my daughters informed me that now that she has a digital camera, she takes 12-times as many pictures of the boys as she did with her old-fashioned film camera, and she usually prints them out.
But also, the film companies will still sell one-billion rolls of film this year.
Silver is widely employed as a bactericide and algaecide. A doctor friend of mine told me that when there is an open wound or big burns, a silver compound is used on the dressing. Silver ions have been used to purify drinking water and swimming pools for generations.
Silver ions in house frames help resist mold and mildew. Silver compounds are providing doctors with powerful clinical treatments against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
I could go on and on, and I guess I already did, but that’s one reason why our silver inventory is under assault, and if Butler is even partly right, that could be one reason why silver is turning into the supply/demand investment of the century.
Will the growing assault on silver inventories trigger a switch to some as-yet-unknown substitutes?In some cases, probably yes. Copper can do some of the things silver can do, but copper is rocketing up in price in a solid bull market, and is becoming a more and more expensive substitute. Usually the thousands of silver uses are so small in each individual unit manufactured, that they are only a small part of the cost of manufacturing the units that incorporate it, so there is not enough incentive to change at these prices, but collectively, they add up to thousands of tons of silver.
Silver as Money
Silver has an important monetary role, according to economic history. One disagreement I have with Butler is that he has discounted the monetary role of silver.
Silver has been consistently used as money throughout history, even more than gold, but as I have said several times before, whenever paper money fails (every 50 to 75 years), the world is subsequently littered with useless paper currencies. That’s when silver is resurrected and comes back into its own.
For example, when the Chinese government fell at the end of World War II, paper currency became distrusted, but almost like magic, U.S. silver and gold coins became the currency of choice all across that huge, primitive country. Everyone knew what an American silver dime was worth. This held true until the Communists imposed a new “fiat currency” (one that is money just because the government says it is) and enforced it with the heavy hand of government.
Could that happen here in America? No one knows for sure, but that remote possibility is becoming less remote every day. That’s why you need some silver for insurance purposes, because the dollar’s fate seems to be sealed and delivered by our present rate of internal monetary inflation. Whether it will take one year, ten years or 30 years, I don’t know, but eventually the world will be littered with worthless paper dollars, and governments will be forced to go back to a gold standard to back a new currency. At some future time, silver coins will be minted again in massive quantities, and silver and gold will both reign triumphant over the world’s monetary system until we have a monetary system we can trust. I don’t know exactly how it will work, and probably nobody else does either, but for that reason, I repeat, you should buy at least ½ bag of junk silver (pre-1965 American dimes, quarters and halves) for your family, just for the silver content. This is not for investment (even though it will go up), but as an insurance policy against a possible inflationary calamity.
Silver always rises during gold bull markets, usually twice as far and fast as gold, but the supply/demand situation (ETFs and jewelry and industrial usage) dwarfs all other reasons why silver will soar in price, perhaps much more than twice as much as gold.
One other supply/demand factor that really matters is that COMEX, (The New York Commodity Exchange), which is by far the biggest commodity exchange in the world, has a monster silver futures exposure. Many of the “longs” have bought a silver contract from the shorts contracting for the silver, in the hopes that silver will be rising, and so will their contract. It can be settled either with a cash payment or by delivery of the physical metal. But a lot of the longs are silver users and need the metal and have only bought the contracts for delivery. They won’t settle for cash, but only for delivery, because they need the metal.
The “shorts” have sold silver they don’t have, assuming they will be able to buy it back at a lower cost in the future and thereby profit handsomely. They are pure speculators, betting that the price will go down so they can buy it cheap. Steadily rising prices are their worst nightmare.
The longs are even more dangerous than the shorts. Remember, for every long contract, there is a corresponding short. As silver has soared, shorting paper losses have mounted to billions of dollars.
I guess the short speculators never learn. That’s exactly what they did back in the 70’s, and when the Hunt brothers tried to corner the silver market and drove the price to $50, most of the governors of the COMEX were short, in effect betting against the Hunts. Their losses mounted day by day, and as they became more and more insolvent, their need to cover their shorts, either with cash or by buying silver to deliver, was way beyond their financial ability to handle. Technically the COMEX should have been shut down, as many of the shorts were governors of the COMEX, but this was unthinkable, as we couldn’t allow the world’s most important commodity exchange to close down.
Eventually they won the battle with the Hunts by, among other things, changing the rules to “liquidation only.” That’s when I decided to tell my subscribers to sell their gold and silver at $35 an ounce, before the $50 top, as when the elephants are fighting, we mice should scurry into the underbrush. Yes, it went to $50, but $2 to $35 is good enough.
This is similar to where COMEX finds itself today. But this time they are short so much silver, that if they had to buy enough silver to cover all their shorts, especially if the longs are silver users who need the physical silver for their industries (many are) and won’t accept just a cash settlement, that this could soak up as much as 100% of all silver production. Also, the short’s cash position is so dire, as their paper losses have mounted as silver has risen, that they won’t have enough money for a cash settlement. Sooner or later they will have to buy silver, and the stability price of silver could soon be above $100 an ounce (my best guess) in order to induce holders (you) to give up yours.
Silver is the investment of the century. It will move with gold, but further, as has already been demonstrated. Gold is up about 200%, and silver is up more than 300% over the last couple of years. We will eventually find that silver at today’s $15 to $20 is the bargain of the century. Silver and silver-mining stocks will be a license to print money.