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All that glitters, isn’t necessarily Gold

10月 9, 2020

Gold

For large parts of the past decade, silver has been regarded as “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” with its comparison to gold. In the past few months, it seems, it has started to shine. The precious metal has rocketed in price, outperforming most alternatives. And with investors worrying about the global economy, with central banks printing money like there’s no tomorrow, the price could get a lot stronger yet before this bull run is over.

In January 2015 silver was trading at $16.50 an ounce. In January this year, it was trading at $17. Over five years, it slowly moved 50 cents one way, and then usually went back again. And then in March, it started to race upwards. Over the course of the next couple of months, it went from $17 an ounce to a high of $28. In sterling terms it has done even better, rising from £13 an ounce to £21. It was last at those levels in 2011 when it briefly spiked up to £21.

By any historical standards, it has been a very dramatic rally. According to Deutsche Bank, the 34 percent rise in the silver price in July, compared with 10 percent for gold, was the metal’s strongest single month since December 1979. It was more than four decades since the market had seen anything like that kind of price action in silver: the last time was when the Hunt brothers famously tried to corner the market in the late 1970s, at one point owning a third of the world’s supply before losing a billion dollars when the price collapsed again.

Silver is, just like gold, a traditional safe haven. It has been in and out of fashion as a monetary metal for the past couple of thousand years, and it is not an asset central banks store in their vaults as they do with its yellow rival. Even so, it has more or less held its place alongside gold as a way of storing wealth over many hundreds of years.

As Covid-19 plunged the world into a deep recession, government deficits soared and central banks started printing dollars, pounds, euros, and yen by the hundreds of billions, alternatives to paper money became ever more attractive. The precious metal has always been a hedge against an inflationary spiral and all of a sudden that seemed more attractive than ever. Gold started to rise strongly, and its junior partner did even better.

Gold isn’t used for much except wedding rings or storing wealth. Silver, by contrast, is also a significant industrial metal. Overall, global demand hit 991.8 million ounces last year, up from 988.3 million ounces in 2018. The two big drivers of that were silver for solar panels and for use in electric vehicles. Both of those were already growing strongly as the world turned its attention to climate change, but the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated that growth. Just about every government in the developed world has launched a recovery programme and ‘green technologies’ are at the heart of most of those. There will be a big switch to solar power, and electric cars are going to dominate the roads (which is why Tesla is now the biggest car company in the world by market value).

The result? There is going to be a lot more demand for silver, and that means the price will go up.

Over the past month, silver has started to stabilise again. It is back to $23 an ounce, and the price is moving within a modest daily range. Even so, it is back on investors’ radars. It has delivered spectacular returns so far this year and has started to make up for a decade of poor performance.