As of today, there are no longer any regular wholesale supplies of the 1 ounce through 100 ounce silver rounds and bars available for immediate delivery. It may be possible to locate incidental quantities of some product, but most wholesalers are now promising two to four weeks delivery to allow time for the silver to be fabricated.
As a result of the shortages, premiums have started to rise. So far, the increases have been modest, on the order of 0.5-2%. However, if the shortage grows, expect to see further and larger premium increases in the coming weeks. We could see a repeat of the late 2008 gold and silver buying frenzy, where product availability got as slow as 1-4 months after payment.
At the COMEX close yesterday, registered (dealer) silver inventories fell below 50 million ounces. Even if you include the eligible (investor) silver inventories in the COMEX bonded warehouses, which are not available to fulfill COMEX deliveries unless the investor specifically chooses to do so, there were barely 107 million ounces to fulfill around 725 million ounces of contractual obligations. COMEX silver inventories are now down more than 10% from mid-June even while the amount of silver owed has soared!
As the price of silver almost continuously rose from $17.98 on August 23 to $29.36 mid-day on November 9 (a 63% increase), the COMEX had not changed its minimum requirements for leveraged accounts. It would be a normal process to periodically bump us the minimum amounts for margin accounts as prices rise, but this was not done until November 9, when the margin requirement was increased from $5,000 per contract to $6,500.
On September 16, the COMEX further raised the silver contract margin requirement to $7,250—even though the price of silver had been dropping since November 9! What is suspicious is that a lot of “insiders” were liquidating their silver positions starting the afternoon of November 15. Is it possible that they may have received advance notice of the coming change in the minimum margin account requirement and sold in anticipation of lower prices the next day?
The next round of gold and silver options expiration occurs on Tuesday, November 23. The attempt to suppress gold and silver prices upon the release of the US jobs and unemployment report on November 5 was almost a complete failure. Unless something is done to knock down gold and silver prices before November 23, a lot of call options will be exercised, which would further increase the demand for physical precious metals.
I suspect, as do many others, that the two rounds of increasing gold and silver margin requirements were timed for no other reason other than to try to help hold down prices through November 23.
Don’t be surprised if supplies of other low premium physical silver products, especially US 90% Silver Coin, dry up, with those premiums also starting to rise. If you are looking to acquire some physical silver, I suggest you act sooner rather than later.
Patrick A. Heller owns Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan and writes "Liberty's Outlook," a monthly newsletter covering rare coins and precious metals. Past issues can be found online at http://www.libertycoinservice.com/ Pat Heller is also the gold market commentator for Numismatic News. Past columns online at http://numismaster.com/ under “News & Articles". His radio show “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 AM Wednesday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com.