Small speculators, also known as individual investors, have had their net long positions in gold (NYSEARCA:GLD) and silver (NYSEARCA:SLV) completely wiped out over the last two weeks. As of last Tuesday, these small investors held a mere 133 net long gold contracts, and 2163 net long silver contracts. As recently as September, when we turned cautious on the metals, small speculators held over 60,000 net long gold contracts and 20,000 silver contracts. If the small speculators were to sell anymore gold and silver, they would become net short.
Typically commercial banks manipulate prices on low volume to set the price and then trade at the newly set price in volume. The recent crash in gold and silver began after hours on a Friday, and was hit further by large sell orders Sunday night to take out the well known technical support lines of both metals. Most small retail investors were probably not even contacted by their futures broker. By the time they checked their account the next Monday Morning, either their protective stop orders were triggered or the margin clerk forcefully closed their position. The snowball effect in margin calls and stop loss orders was great enough to last several days.
None of this is surprising. However, we were quite surprised to see that net short positions of commercial traders rose substantially during this period. Typically they would be expected to cover their short positions at lower prices, mopping up the losses of retail investors.
This reveals several important changes to the gold and silver markets:
1) It took an enormous number of short positions added to move the market even on a weekend.
2) The gambit failed, as they were not able to cover these positions in volume after the dump. Nevertheless, as we have been expecting for several years, the commercial traders will be net long before the metals make new highs. But if they can't cover at lower prices, they will begin covering at higher prices as we saw when silver rose from $20 fall 2010 to $50 in spring 2011.
We suspect that the failure of the gold gambit is largely due to the unexpected surge in global demand for physical metal. Premiums on bullion products are higher than they were during the 2008 crash, with even junk silver selling at $5-$6 over the paper spot price. This is unprecedented.
The consolidation in gold and silver over the last two years has been painful, especially for mining investors. However, with the prices of the metals at or below production costs, along with shortages of retail bullion products, and zero net long small investors, we are struggling to identify any more sellers. The summer season is typically weak for precious metals, and they could easily back and fill a base over the next six months, however, the risk in accumulating physical metals in this price range is very low. We also believe that producing miners and miner ETFs such as GDX and SIL with cash holdings represent substantial value at this time.
Disclosure: I am long GDX, SIL. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.