As the price of silver has soared, market talk has centered on a short squeeze - most of the talk has focused on levered players unwinding their books - this may be true, but it there is more to the silver story.
Inspired by a video clip of Eric Sprott (Sprott Physical Silver ETF) talking about a shortage of physical bullion, we conducted our own analysis in the Reagan tradition of trust but verify.
Starting with the major silver ETF holdings we found:
Total Amount of Silver in ETFs (Ounces)
iShares Silver Trust (SLV) 340,001,630.80
Central Fund of Canada 75,209,103.00
Silver Bullion Trust 3,143,830.00
Sprott ETF 22,298,540.00
ETF Securities Silver 25,000,000.00
Claymore Silver 2,930,000.00
Goldmoney - Vaults 23,024,000.00
Sources: Company websites as of 2/23/11
According to GFMS the supply of silver is:
GFMS Total Supply of Silver 975,395,600.13 ounces
GFMS Silver Demand (less Coins and Investments) 738,883,684.22
Available for Investment and Coins 236,511,915.91
But we already know that investment demand is: 550,848,103.80
Thus, there is a silver shortage of: 314,336,187.89 ounces
What is puzzling is that GFMS uses ~250,000,000 ounces as their estimate of investment demand, however, the simple math shows that the number is 550,000,000 ounces.
There is not a direct historical precedent for a shortage of this size since the reason for the shortage is the relatively recent invention and popularity of ETFs. The most direct comparison that can be made is the so-called "Hunt Brothers Episode." From a low of ~$1.30 in the early 1970's, silver climbed to $49.45 by 1980, or an increase of 3700%. The most recent low for silver was in 1993 at $3.56; if silver makes the same move in percentage terms then the target price for this move would be ~$135 per ounce.
The natural question is whether the Hunt Brothers episode is relevant to today's market. At the peak of their silver accumulation the Hunt brothers were estimated to control about 1/3 of the world supply of silver. By our estimates the silver shortage today is about 1/3 of world supply.
The full brunt of the rally was really felt during 1979 when silver rose from $6 to $48 per ounce, or 700%. The most recent silver surge began in 2008 at ~$9 per ounce, at the current price of $31.90 silver has already jumped 250%. To match the 1979 move, silver would have to rise to $70 per ounce.
Using either pricing method as a guide there is one move the make in silver...buy the dip!!