Silver Looks Like Gold as Slump Defies More Industrial Use

San Francisco (May 1)  Silver is being undermined by its association with gold.

While makers of everything from jewelry to solar panels are buying the most silver in nine years, prices are languishing. Investors are dismissing industrial demand and instead focusing on the waning appeal of precious metals as a haven, with the Federal Reserve paring economic stimulus measures, inflation muted and equities rallying.

Silver has been dragged down by a yearlong slump in gold, the commodity most widely held by investors in exchange-traded funds, following a decade-long rally that saw prices for both surge more than sixfold. The five most-accurate precious-metals analysts tracked by Bloomberg over the past two years predict silver will average $18.80 an ounce in the third quarter, the lowest since 2010, and gold will drop 7.8 percent.

“The industrial driver can help, but I don’t think it’s as influential as the investor,” said Robin Bhar, head of metals research at Societe Generale SA in London and the most-accurate forecaster tracked by Bloomberg. “Investors were bullish silver because gold was in a bull market. Now that we have gold in a bear market, there’s less enthusiasm coming from investors.”

The correlation has been strong. From December 2008 to June 2011, silver tripled and gold surged 70 percent, with both touching all-time highs, as the Fed pumped more than $2 trillion into the financial system and cut interest rates to a record in a bid to boost the economy. Last year, when signs of economic growth sent gold down 28 percent, silver plunged 36 percent. The declines were the most for both metals since 1981.

Price Slump

Silver is down 13 percent in London during the past six months to $19.1094, while gold slid 2.5 percent, according to Bloomberg generic pricing. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index of 24 commodities rose 4.8 percent over the same period. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities gained 4.4 percent, the Bloomberg Dollar Index fell 0.4 percent, while the Bloomberg Treasury Bond Index is up 0.8 percent.

Concern over the value of haven assets is trumping signs that industrial demand is improving. Half of silver supply is used to make things, more than the 10 percent for gold, and demand is picking up as economic growth fuels sales of electronics and cars from China to the U.S.

Since precious metals generally earn returns only through price gains, silver investors were “disillusioned” by the slump over the past year and put their money elsewhere, New York-based researcher CPM said in an April 29 report. Investment demand tumbled 42 percent last year to 105.3 million ounces, the lowest since 2008, according to CPM, which forecast average prices in 2014 will be lower for a third straight year.

Industrial Uses

At the same time, fabrication usage including by makers of cars, jewelry and tableware will rise 2.9 percent this year to 890.7 million ounces, the most since 2005, CPM said. Silver content is increasing in vehicles with more electronics, according to Metals Focus Ltd., a London-based research company. After dropping last year, demand from electronics and battery makers will rebound in 2014, CPM forecasts.