During an interview with Contrary Investors Cafe on 24 February 2009 I discussed both gold backwardation and silver backwardation. After the interview I was asked why more commentators are not discussing this issue. I do not know.
Regarding money there are two competing views: (1) money is determined by the market or (2) chartalism which asserts that ‘money is a creature of law.’ Governments can only manage money if they create it. Obviously, the market determines money because money existed before governments were created.
Regarding gold there are two competing paradigms: (1) gold is a commodity and (2) gold is money. Paradigm (1) asserts that gold is a hedge against inflation and there is no monetary demand for gold. On the other hand, paradigm (2) asserts that gold is a hedge against currency collapse and the primary demand for gold is monetary. I subscribe to the second paradigm and assert that at all times and in all circumstances gold remains money.
WHAT IS SILVER’S ROLE
Under which paradigm does silver fall? Is silver a commodity or is silver money? For a commodity to be money its primary demand must be monetary.
Like gold, for thousands of years silver functioned as money in the market. The term dollar, as used in Article 1 Section 9 Clause 1 and the Seventh Amendment of the US Constitution, is defined as 371.25 grains of fine silver under Section 9 of the Coinage Act of 1792. Governments stockpiled billions and billions of ounces. However, on 24 June 1968 the United States government defaulted on their silver certificates. Over the decades, silver, like gold, has been demonetized in ordinary daily transactions. Supposedly there are large stockpiles of gold in central bank vaults. Unlike gold there are no reported large above ground stockpiles of silver stashed in central bank vaults. Additionally, a large portion of silver demand is industrial as it is used in cell phones, refrigerators, dental equipment, computers, etc.
Therefore, it appears that silver is confused about its role. In other words, silver functions as a commodity and as quasi-money.
FIVE WEEKS OF SILVER BACKWARDATION
While similar, there are differences between future and forward contracts. For example, future contracts are traded on exchanges, use margin and are marked to market daily. In contrast, forward contracts are generally traded over-the-counter (OTC derivatives) and are not marked to market. Therefore, forward contracts are subject to greater counter-party risk than future contracts.
Because the primary reason backwardation arises is counter-party risk and because forward contracts are impregnated with greater counter-party risk than future contracts, therefore it is highly likely that backwardation would appear in the forwards markets before the futures markets.
This is precisely what has happened. While the COMEX silver futures contract have not been in backwardation the LBMA Silver Forward Mid Rates have been in backwardation for five consecutive weeks. Of particular interest is the 6 month contract.
What does all this mean? Well, I think the backwardation reflects the market’s uncertainty of silver’s role as money. The chronic silver backwardation began on 8 December 2009, the same day I wrote about gold in backwardation, and silver was priced about $9.60. Currently silver is trading about $13.82. Predictably, the gold/silver ratio is narrowing. If the backwardation persists it will be interesting to see if silver’s price in illusory FRN$ continues rising.
In my opinion, as the great credit contraction grinds on and intensifies, the commodity silver will reassert itself as money and eventually currency. As I mentioned during the interview with Contrary Investors Cafe what would be really interesting is if the central banks decide to start hoarding silver!
In the meantime it may behoove those who are bullish towards silver to increase the pressure on physical silver delivery. For example, I purchased some beautiful Austrian philharmonics at the Cambridge House Investment Conference and Silver Summit over the weekend. The beautiful coin cost $20 which was an amazing $5.50 over spot.
While there are cheaper ways to purchase physical silver bullion, like GoldMoney, these huge premiums over spot beg the question: What is the real silver price? With the specter of counter-party risk driving silver into backwardation if there is a failure to deliver then it will likely cause the silver price to shift from the COMEX just like a failure to deliver would cause the gold price to shift from the COMEX.
Bottom line: Do not get caught with your paradigms down!