One of the things which usually gives silver (NYSEARCA:SLV) investors hope is that they expect silver to somehow grab a bit of the attention gold (NYSEARCA:GLD) has gathered in the last few years due to the monetary madness.
There are many reasons for this, starting with the fact that until not so long ago, central banks held silver along with gold in their reserves (something which is now all but gone). Also central to this hope, is the historical gold to silver ratio. As we can see below, for much of its history the ratio between gold and silver was much lower than today. Indeed, a ratio of 12:1 is sometimes bandied about as being the very long term average. Now it sits at 55. (Source for chart: wealthcycles.com, chart is updated at the source so might make sense to bookmark it)
With the ratio so far from where it has been historically, hopes are thus high that silver might rally to take the ratio lower.
One of the arguments also made supporting a lower gold/silver ratio is that the relationship between gold and silver yearly production is also significantly lower than the price ratio. Silver sees yearly production of around 23,800 tons, versus gold at 2,700 tons. This gives us a ratio for production of less than 9:1.
One could easily use another argument for a higher ratio. Indeed, a ratio close to where gold and silver have recently been trading. This would be a ratio based on the abundance of gold and silver in the Earth's crust. That would be 0.0011 ppm (parts per million) for gold, and 0.07 ppm for silver. And guess what, the ratio between the two is … 63.6.
Over the course of history gold's value has many times been set administratively. One cannot be certain that the gold/silver price ratio thus transmits much information. At the same time, the prospecting and production of gold seems much more massive than for silver, given both metals' relative rarity. Gold is justifies its own mining whereas silver is usually a sub-product of mining other minerals.
On the other hand, a significant part of gold's demand is speculative/for investment. Silver's demand is dominated by industrial uses. Thus, we'd expect deep changes in the gold/silver ratio to be dictated more by gold's fluctuations in speculative demand than by silver, even though silver is the most volatile metal right now, perhaps due to its also historically high speculative demand as evidenced by the holdings of the SLV ETF (10,650 tons, or nearly 45% of an entire year's production).
Also importantly, one should remember that the ratio can change favorably by gold falling and silver staying the same, or by both metals falling but gold falling faster. Since usually those advocating buying silver due to the ratio are not proposing a paired long-short trade, this cannot be forgotten.
There is little safety in buying silver long just because the historical gold/silver ratio seems favorable for such a trade. Both gold and silver have seen huge speculation over the last few years due to the monetary madness, which greatly increases the risk of betting in any of the two metals (even if the reason to do so - monetary madness itself - seems obvious).