Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Investors see silver lining in economic gloom

From the UK Telegraph:

Forget gold. Silver, the yellow metal's poor cousin, has been the investment of the year.

Silver prices have risen 31pc in 2010 to a 30-year high, outperforming gold, equities and most base metals. On Tuesday, the gold-silver ratio dropped below 60 for the first time in 11 months.

The gold-silver ratio is simply the number of ounces of silver it takes to buy one ounce of gold. The silver price is currently $22.11 and the gold price is $1,317, so the silver ratio now stands at 59.6. The ratio varies wildly. In 1970, it was about 20 and it peaked at just under 100 in 1991. The average is around about 40 – and that is the key to any silver bull's argument. Historically, it appears that silver is undervalued in relation to gold, they argue. In 2010, the ratio has been as high as 72, recorded in February, and is now just below 60. Many believe it could have further to fall.

The reasons for gold's outperformance are well documented – inflationary fears, currency woes and safe-haven demand – but does the declining ratio towards its average mean that silver is going to continue with its charge forward? Most analysts are not that bullish – with a price of about $24 targeted for next year. There are some, however, that believe the silver price will become much more lustrous over the coming years.

James Turk, who founded bullion dealer GoldMoney in 2001 and manages $1.2bn (£758m) of assets, thinks prices could hit $50 by the end of next year, but accepts that there will be volatility along the way. Mr Turk believes quantitative easing will devalue currencies and send precious metals much higher. "Just pick up your newspaper to see what central banks are doing to destroy currencies," Mr Turk says. "Unlike the 1970s, there are no safe havens from currency debasement – such as the deutschemark."

Mr Turk is more bullish on silver than gold. "The problem is the volatility," Mr Turk says. "Essentially it is a cheap form of gold, but it is not for everyone because of the volatility." He says investors should always buy the physical metal and not paper and advises a portfolio of one-third silver to one-third gold.

Suki Cooper, a precious metals analyst at Barclays Capital is not so bullish. She has an average target for silver next year of $22.2, expecting the metal to peak in the second quarter at an average price of $23.7. "Silver mine supply is still growing and industrial demand – although improving – remains relatively weak. Silver is still in surplus, but it has benefited from safe-haven buying," Ms Cooper says. "The price could fall sharply if investor interest wanes." Already investor interest this year is much lower than last year, which is surprising given the recent bull run. In the current year to date investment inflows into silver have amounted to 1,377 tonnes. In the nine-months to September 2009 it was 2,942 tonnes – with full year 2009 inflows at 4,112 tonnes, Ms Cooper notes.

However, Mr Turk remains unbowed. "I expect the gold-silver ratio to fall back below 23 over the next three-to-five years," he says, despite most analysts thinking this is unlikely.

Precious metals consultancy GFMS also believes that there is a risk of a sharp fall in the silver price. Silver has risen on gold's coat-tails, but it is also used in industrial processes so it has risen on hopes of a recovery in the global economy too. Philip Klapwijk, GFMS's chairman, said last week that the absence of an improvement in the economy will be a negative for the silver price. "If you think gold will continue to advance in the medium term, then why wouldn't silver necessarily follow suit? One reason could be that if economic prospects take a bath, that side of the argument for silver becomes a lot weaker," Mr Klapwijk said. "In the current situation, silver is benefiting from both general optimism on industrial production in emerging markets, and the investor interest in safe-haven assets like gold," he added.

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