November 4, 2008

Ted Butler: Why the Silver Users will Panic


By Theodore Butler

An integral component of my analysis has been that, as the inevitable shortage of wholesale silver became apparent, the industrial users would panic and attempt to build inventories of physical metal. Faced with prolonged delays of a material that threatened to shut down their production lines, the users would rush to buy enough physical silver to prevent those shut downs. This would provide a bullish price thrust that few comprehend.

Recently, I had an experience that may drive home why the silver users will panic and why that will cause the price of silver to explode. About a month ago, I drove home to Florida from Maine. Normally, I take a slightly longer, but more scenic route, than the straight run down I-95. This year, because I was sensitive to reports of gasoline shortages along the route I normally take, I swung over to I-95 further north than I usually do, to avoid any problems getting fuel. It seemed that Hurricane Ike and pipeline problems were causing gas shortages throughout the Southeast U.S.

Having navigated successfully over to I-95 (over much pouting and resistance from my wife, a strong proponent for the scenic route), I thought I was headed home gas-worry free. However, at a rest stop in South Carolina, a traveler approached me with the warning that gas was now a problem on I-95. He related to me that he just came from a gas station that was sold out and had heard that there "was no gasoline at all in Georgia." Georgia was still 100 miles ahead, and there is no other way to get to Florida.

Since I had less than half a tank of gas, I decided to fill up at the next gas station. Sure enough, that station had long lines and the dreaded plastic bags over many of the fuel nozzles, indicating empty tanks for premium and mid-grade gas. Fortunately, my car only requires regular gas, so I was able to fill up with no great difficulty.

I must tell you that such an experience wakes you up and focuses your attention on something you normally take for granted. I confess that 75 miles down the road, in stopping at a hotel for the evening, I pulled into an empty gas station and topped off my tank with 2 gallons. I wanted to get home.

It occurred to me that it didn’t matter if your vehicle was worth $1000 or a hundred times that amount; without fuel, it was of no use. You need fuel to run your car. Same thing with silver for an industrial consumer - your $100 million factory could grind to a halt without silver.

I related to my wife that the price of a gallon of gas was no longer a concern, only its availability. If there was a way to insure a guaranteed supply of gas for the next year or so, I would sign up. But that’s impossible, as the problem was that there was no practical way of storing such a supply, as we are all limited by the capacity of our vehicles’ fuel tanks. Where would you put 1000 gallons of gasoline?

It occurred to me that there was no practical way for anyone to hedge against a shortage of fuel, save build your own tanks to store the fuel. Even those that had successfully hedged the price of fuel in the past, like Southwest Airlines and others, were hedging against just the price and couldn’t guarantee themselves actual supply in a shortage. For fuel and many other commodities, there was no practical protection against a shortage of the commodity.

That’s when it dawned on me to write this article. Silver is a lot different than fuel in that not only is it a lot easier and less dangerous to store, it is more likely to go into a shortage, given silver’s investment demand. Not only could the silver industrial consumers hedge themselves against the giant silver price increases ahead (buying futures), they could easily guarantee actual supplies before the coming inevitable shortage. All the users have to do is buy actual silver, not paper contracts, but real silver. Just like you do. The users buying actual silver to protect against both price increases and availability is as easy as falling off a log. Plus, it is a very rational act.

The silver industrial users have yet to initiate any type of buying protection program, either with paper contracts or with the actual metal. But, the users are run by people who are human. When they can’t get timely delivery of actual silver, like what has occurred to investors for the past months, they will do what I did in North Carolina; they will top off, and keep topping off. Only they won’t be limited by a 15-gallon gas tank. Because of the physical nature of silver and its ease of storage, the users will be able to buy as much silver as they care to, price permitting. They will buy more silver than they need because they will fear not being able to get it, once the delays in shipments start. This will set off a chain reaction, exacerbating the shortage and causing more silver users to do the same thing. This chain reaction will set off a price spiral that will shock the world.