Silver Production Falls by 70%?
This headline should grab anyone’s attention, especially those interested in the silver market. Before going forward, let me explain that fully 70% of silver is produced as a result of mining other metals, mostly base metals. Copper mining, for example, is responsible for 28% of the silver mined in 2007. Lead/Zinc mining yielded 32% of the silver mined in 2007. Finally, gold mining brought about 10% of the silver mined, again in 2007. All data is from GFMS World Silver Survey 2008, page 31.
The point is, with the current low prices for all of the base metals, many companies that produce them are slowing, closing, or stopping projects. The result is obvious: the overall production of silver from base metal and even gold mining is going to be reduced because of current economic conditions. Will this bring down silver production by the 70% mentioned in my “yellow journalism” headline? Of course not, but my headline builds awareness that a slowdown in global mining activity is not necessarily going to flood the market with silver; quite the contrary, slowing mining activity slows the amount of silver produced.
As far as primary silver producers are concerned, some will be unprofitable at these levels, and all will be looking to find as much high-grade ore as possible, to stay as close to profitable as can be expected. Some marginal projects will be shelved and some projects may be forced to close if prices remain in the doldrums.
The overall mining equities have been completely devastated, as all of us in this sector know, and the prices of these stocks have dropped to levels that few can believe. The earnings of these companies will of course be falling as well, due to the fall in their respective products.
As of the week ending October 24, 2008, the year-to-date results are as follows:
Across the board, both the metals and mining shares have been blasted. The base metals fare worse than both silver and gold, and the basket of precious metals stocks (as per the XAU and HUI) are doing worse than any metal cited. Again, we find silver at this point in time being not as precious as gold, but more precious than its base metal cousins.
There is some encouragement, as the past few days in the metals markets have shown some strength as interest rates were cut on the U.S. dollar. The gold/silver ratio has backed off from being over 85 recently to 77. Perhaps the worst is over, perhaps not.
I could not help looking further into the GFMS Survey since pulling it off the shelf for this week’s article, and found the following.
For those who are historically inclined, the GFMS World Silver Survey 2008, page 58, discusses the main uses of silver. Under the classification of coins we find,
“Historically, silver was more widely used in coinage than gold, being in greater supply and of less value, thus being practical for everyday payments. Most nations were on a silver standard until the late 19th century with silver coin forming the main circulating currency. But after the gold rushes, the silver standard increasingly gave way to gold. Silver was gradually phased out of regular coinage . . . .”
Yes, silver coinage stopped in 1965, the U.S. closed the gold window in 1971, and here we are today looking at a financial system that has certainly lost its way.
Note: This weekly missive will not be available for the next two weeks, as this writer will be in Europe speaking about precious metals under the current economic conditions.
It is an honor to be,
Mr. Morgan has followed the silver market daily for more than thirty years. Much of his Web site, www.silver-investor.com, is devoted to education about the precious metals.
David Morgan (Silver-Investor.com) is a widely recognized analyst in the precious metals industry; he consults for hedge funds, high net-worth investors, mining companies, depositories and bullion dealers. He is the publisher of The Morgan Report on precious metals, the author of Get the Skinny on Silver Investing, and a featured speaker at investment conferences in North America, Europe and Asia. You can receive a free 30 day trial subscription here http://www.silver-investor.com/joinfreelist.html