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By Stuart Burns

It seems everyone is clamoring to provide a silver fix when the current collaborative bank-decided arrangement ceases after 117 years on August 14. According to Reuters, the front runner might be the London Metal Exchange in spite of it being mired in controversy, itself, over the warehouse debacle and resulting sky-high aluminum physical delivery premiums.

Admitting The Problem is the First Step

Recognizing the old system is broken is one thing, agreeing on what form the new system should take is entirely another. A new benchmark to set silver prices is certainly required and the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) along with the wider silver market community is keen to see a system to allow daily prices to take shape.

The problem, at the risk of sounding like a pun, is precious little time is available. The LME has three proposals. The first is simply an alternative telephone-based arrangement, similar to the current three bank process in which HSBC, Scotia Bank and Deutsche Bank get together to negotiate a price where sellers are willing to sell and buyers are willing to buy and can be used as a reliable benchmark for contracts around the world.

The LME promises better auditing and compliance, drawing on its years of experience in market making. The second proposal is an extension of its open cry ring-based process as used for base metals, minor metals and steel billets, although the exchange acknowledges creating sufficient liquidity may be an issue as currently few of the ring dealers also have any significant exposure to precious metals.

The third and preferred option of the silver users apparently is for an electronic auction-based system. Although the LME would use its existing infrastructure in its LME Select electronic platform, it still feels this would be the most challenging to have running by August 15. Nevertheless if that is what the LBMA decide they want at a meeting planned for June 20, then the LME would work to the August date. LME Select does have the advantage that some LBMA market makers such as JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) and Societe Generale (OTC:SCGLF), are already using it as they are also involved in base metals.

None LME Solutions

The LME is not alone in offering solutions though, the LBMA will be evaluating up to 10 options at their meeting, including proposals from the Intercontinental Exchange (NYSE:ICE), which has been running the LIBOR interbank interest rate benchmark service since February and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) which is proposing an electronic system and recently launched a rival physically settled aluminum contract to rival the LME's US$ 51 billion per annum market.

The prize could be not just the silver fix, but ultimately the gold fix, too, as Deutsche Bank's exit from both metals' price fixing agreements leaves the gold fix in, well, a fix. Down to four participants and under intense scrutiny over rate-fixing and transparency, a change is almost certainly in the air and a move to an electronic auction seems the most likely.

The importance of getting this right cannot be overplayed, not just for the trade but for investors. A price that enjoys everyone's unquestioning acceptance and trust is imperative to ensure continued liquidity and support.

Disclosure: No positions.

Source: Fixing The Fixes: How Can Silver, And Soon Gold, Prices Be More Transparent?