Silver poised to make a move to $50 an ounce

Silver’s uptrend has been nothing short of astounding. The precious metal has more than doubled in the last year, and yet the rally seems to continue unabated, supported by fantastic fundamentals. The industrial and investment demand for silver products continues as the global above ground supply diminishes.

In the near term, based off of technical and fundamental (demand) analysis, it looks like the metal will regain the inflation adjusted Hunt Brothers’ high of about $50+ per ounce reached in the 1970s. Some go as far as to speculate that silver could return to a 17:1 traditional silver to gold ratio over time. With gold projected to hit about $2,000 an ounce, silver, assuming this ratio comes to fruition over the next several years, could hit about $120 per ounce.

Another factor that is contributing to demand of the white metal is inflation that seems to be percolating through global markets at an ever increasing pace. West Texas intermediate light sweet crude is now solidly above $100 per barrel, grain prices have made significant gains, other industrial metals such as copper, aluminum, nickel and zinc are staging impressive rallies and the value of the US dollar when compared against other currencies continues to diminish at a rapid rate.

Many savvy investors say the best way to own silver is through mining stocks or through buying physical bullion. There are a myriad of players in the silver mining industry, so if you are interested, do your homework on the fundamentals, their management and the chart of the company in question. If instead you’re interested in buying the metal itself, make sure you find a reputable dealer with prices that aren’t too much above the bid/ask spread.

If silver triples in price over the next several years, that could mean that today’s prices are a bargain the likes of which we rarely ever see in the investment world.

(Disclosure: The author’s family currently holds some positions in precious metals ETFs and silver mining companies. The author may buy positions in precious metals ETFs and silver mining companies.)

US Government probes JP Morgan silver trades

Federal agents are probing JPMorgan Chase’s silver trading activity in order to determine if the bank used derivatives to artificially lower the price of the precious metal.

Part of a larger problem

It is estimated that JPMorgan holds up to 40% of the world’s silver short.  If this is true it is certainly indicative of price manipulation as JPMorgan doesn’t possess 40% of the physical silver.

Derivatives played a large role in the market collapse that began in 2006 that was largely blamed on subprime loans.  Because these mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps and other instruments weren’t on exchanges there would be a very wide difference between the bid and ask (or the spread), especially during market volatility.

This could lead to huge price swings in the instruments, making holders uncertain what the true value really was.

Light must be shed

When reflecting on this opaque market’s role in recent events it’s clear that something must be done.  We need more transparency with derivatives.

They should be traded on open exchanges where they can be settled every trading day.

Shorting silver

The reason silver (and to a large extent gold) have been shorted is to artificially depress the prices of precious metals vs. the prices of stocks and bonds, helping to hide the true effects of inflation.

In fact, using these derivatives to add liquidity to their balance sheet by shorting silver, it’s likely that JPMorgan would use that cash to invest in stocks and US Treasury bonds.

Bribing Washington

Wall Street sends $500 million to Washington every year, using lobbyists to shape the opinion of lawmakers.  There is also a shameful revolving door between government and the private sector that often hinders regulators from employing their full might.

Consequences of manipulation

The DOJ and CFTC are looking at both civil and criminal charges as the investigation continues.  They are examining trading tickets and other information.  I expect the probe may expand to other assets, too.

It is possible that the firm will be fined, but I’d be very surprised if anyone goes to jail.

Significant headwinds ahead for US economy

I feel we are facing significant headwinds moving forward because of the loose monetary policy of the Federal Reserve, the refusal to address the core problems in our financial system and the incredibly opaque derivatives market that has yet to be regulated or even cleared on open exchanges.

The root of the problem

To expand on the first point of loose monetary policy, from my own research I have gathered that the government has put at least $12T, possibly up to $30T worth of guarantees, backstops and other forms of insurance against the prospect of another meltdown. In addition the Federal Reserve has, in my opinion, illegally bailed out AIG through programs they are not authorized to participate in. These actions and other measures have transferred the risk of collapse from the private sector to the US government and to the Federal Reserve.

Interest rates remain below 1% in a range of 0.00% to 0.25%. Combine that with the infusion of US dollars the Federal Reserve has given to other central banks around the world and we have literally created a carry trade scenario. Not only are we repeating the mistakes of Japan, but we are going down a path where should a geopolitical event or other significant negative catalyst occur the repatriation of dollars could create a collapse across nearly every asset class.

Risk grows as stability wanes

This environment that has been created to engender a recovery is not only unsustainable, but it has created more risks than had existed beforehand:

#1 Should another market panic occur where AIG’s credit default swaps are due, the US Treasury and Federal Reserve must cough up the difference. This would lead to another series of bailouts and funneling cash to foreign and domestic banks at the tax payer’s expense on bets that never should have been made and were downright idiotic.

#2 Big banks are BIGGER now than before: JPM, BAC, WFC, USB and others are now larger and present a much more significant risk to the system should, say for example, one of their mark to make believe off balance sheet assets implode — potentially bringing down the entire world financial system, again.

#3 The stress tests were fraudulent and did not expose the off balance sheet asset liquidity vacuum these banks are suffering from. Papering over fraud never leads to a sustainable rebound.

#4 Tax receipts are down across the board – how can counties, cities, states and the Federal government hope to control deficit spending if they are not collecting as much in taxes? They can’t sell bonds forever, bringing me to my next point.

#5 Commercial real estate and corporate bonds are headed towards a potential implosion in the next few years, with major mall holders filing bankruptcy and many occupants of office and retail space vacating as they downsize. Corporations also must refinance their debtload which is ever growing while the global appetite for these bonds is diminishing.

#6 We in the United States are very seriously facing the risk of a sovereign debt default in the future. This prospect is made even more serious by continued bail outs, war spending, entitlements and other programs that are completely unsustainable with our country’s $14T debt burden.

#7 Such a sovereign debt default would lead to a currency collapse and that could engender either an environment of hyperinflation or heavy deflation — all depending on where the chips fall at the end of the day.

Inflation or deflation?

While speculators are now hedging for inflation and shorting the dollar in any way possible, there is another market we must pay close attention to. A market that significantly dwarfs the size of the commodities markets as a whole. That is the US Treasury Bond Market. Last I checked it was $33.5 trillion dollars. I find it interesting that gold is touching $1111.00 an ounce while 10 year bonds are at only 3.625% — who is wrong in this gigantic game of chicken?

Either the folks buying gold are insane to believe inflation is the bogeyman to fear or the much larger, much more influential and liquid bond market is crazy because they obviously fear deflation. Why else would a rational human being buy a bond at 3.625% that they must hold for 10 years? Such an instrument would be less than worthless in an inflationary environment.

First the principle value of the bond erodes as interest rates rise, and secondly the yield would not make up for the rate of inflation. So we are experiencing a financial conundrum right now. Either we are on the verge of a deflationary collapse or a hyperinflationary currency crisis. Which way we’re going to go has not yet been made clear to me because I feel the markets are being propped up, even manipulated.

The most dangerous bubble

Why would I pose such an idea? Let’s start with the P/E of the S&P 500 which is now well over 25 (and was at one point over 100). How can anyone feel that these stocks are reasonably valued with such an absurd P/E? Most of the decrease in P/E from over 100 to over 25 has been from companies downsizing, firing employees, hiding bad assets and not organic growth. In the current global macroeconomic environment there’s no feasible way earnings can catch up, so in my opinion we’re already in a bubble.

Bubbles of the past were not as dangerous because the US government never had such a large stake in the market. Now we’re talking about a situation where if the credit, bond, currency and/or stock markets implode, so does our sovereign debt and currency potentially.

Investing is now speculation

Investing in this environment is difficult at best. During the March panic I was a buyer in the high S&P 600s of just about any material, technology, financial and energy stock I could find, but once we got to the 900s and I saw P/Es jump beyond levels I felt were fair valuations I became a seller of my holdings. I also invested some in to silver, foreign currencies and other commodities during the March lows, but also have since taken a lot of those profits off the table.

We are in a very risky area for people to be entering the market. I don’t feel these lofty levels are sustainable nor do I think the valuations are rational. I don’t know when the rally will end, but I do know that any parabolic move usually ends very badly and any time there has been a carry trade in the history of money it has ended painfully for all the speculators who did not exit in time.

Another collapse coming?

In closing I will say that before Rome’s collapse the government was shaving gold and silver coins down to create more currency. They also had a severe debt crisis. The shaving and continued spending led to awful inflation that eventually catalyzed the empire’s downfall.

History is being made every day and the decisions are going to shape the face of America’s future. It is imperative that we start to take our medicine (meaning we must face the financial problems instead of ignoring them) and deal with the overwhelming burden of debt before it swallows up everything left.

Thoughts on equity, energy and metals markets

At this point there is some distortion between energy and metals which have a direct relationship as energy must be expended to mine the metals. usually the ratio is 10x the price of a barrel of oil for an ounce of gold, but now it’s been in a range of 12.5x-15x.

Either oil is very undervalued (which is unlikely) or gold is overbought at these levels.

Today’s close of the stock markets and oil seems to indicative of a risk repricing that began last week.

960 (around the 50 day moving average) on the S&P 500 and $65 a barrel on light sweet crude are my downside targets short term, but if either breaks we could trade to much lower support levels.

In addition, when examining the huge sell off in natural gas prices, it’s near certain that energy has more negative catalysts than positive because industrial utilization continues to lag despite the green shoots propaganda that we keep hearing.

Finally, there are a growing number of bears calling for a shake out of March’s lows coming this fall because of a new leg down in commercial real estate that will bleed liquidity out of the equity markets and REITs.

US dollar index topping?

We may be seeing an interim top on the US dollar index, which is no doubt expected to see pressure from the stimulus plan and the Obama administration’s bank bailout 2.0 that is expected to be revealed in the weeks to come.  The US dollar index appears to be making a descending series of highs.  If the pattern continues this could signal the next wave down.

USD

Watch the foreign exchange markets, as the US dollar could be bound for a correction soon.  Possible trades include going long Canadian dollars, Australian dollars, Swiss francs, Gold, Silver and hedging by shorting the GBP Sterling.

Gold to $1000?

The action in precious metals lately has been impressive.  Silver and gold caught a bid amidst the chaos in currency markets and bank balance sheets.  The nervousness has created an atmosphere of fleeing away from equity in to safer havens.  With gold seemingly gaining steam to make another move to the upside, is $1000 within sight?

Looking ahead

Markets tend to discount the here and now and focus on the future.  Has gold already priced in potential inflation or is that a variable being gauged on a daily basis?  Options traders in GLD would suggest that $95 to $100 (or around 950-1000/oz) are reasonable price targets given their usually large call positions.

Charting the course

Right now $1000 is resistance long term, without some extraordinary volatility to the upside.  Below is a three year, weekly chart of GLD.  The bollinger bands are a great indication of potential support and resistance in price moves.  We’re using a longer term chart to get a very broad view of GLD’s price action over the last 150 weeks.

GLD ETF

Past performance

While past performance is no indication of future gains, GLD has outperformed the SPY (S&P 500) consistently for quite some time.  Gold has always provided a safe haven for value.  For thousands of years, gold has had the same purchasing power.

It is wise for investors with long term objectives to have some precious metals exposure in any portfolio as a hedge against inflation, which is expected to increase significantly in time.  Traders may want to be more aggressive playing the rally depending on your strategy.