While gold has been nabbing the bulk of the recent commodity headlines, investors have missed what has been — and will likely continue to be — the better long-term, safe-haven holding.
Surprise! Silver has actually outpaced gold since both hit a short-term bottom on June 2. Specifically, even with last week’s tumble, the iShares Silver Trust (SLV) is still up 10% since that point, while the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) is only up 4.9% for the nearly-two-month timeframe. In fact, SLV has outpaced the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), the iShares Barclays 20-Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT), and a whole slew of other asset classes over the past couple of months.
The shiny stuff’s leadership raises two simple questions from opportunistic investors. The first one is: Why? The second question is: Will this leadership last? After all, if silver futures and/or SLV are primed to lead, it only makes sense to change lanes and ride the silver bullet higher.
Why Is the iShares Silver Trust Leading the Way?
While there are identifiable, even quantifiable reasons silver is on a relative tear here, it should be clarified from the onset that there’s no way of knowing for sure why silver, gold, stocks, bonds, or any other category of investments moves higher or lower. Often, an asset is moving higher for several reasons, and occasionally for no real reason at all. Nevertheless, there are three key reasons why we shouldn’t be shocked the iShares Silver Trust is doing so well.
1. Although the SPDR Gold Trust tumbled 37% between 2011’s peak and 2013’s trough, the iShares Silver Trust suffered a much more severe beating. From its 2011 peak to 2013 trough, SLV gave up 62% of its value. So silver might just be doing better now because it did so much worse then.
2. Silver is inherently more volatile than gold, sparking outperformance when both metals are in rally mode. It’s an admittedly odd statistic, though telling all the same … on 75% of the days that gold and silver move on the same direction, silver typically moves three times more than gold does. Ergo, the economic undertow that’s good for gold is great for silver. And yes, the current economic situation of potentially-rising inflation — and the geopolitical turmoil that necessitates a hedge against currency volatility — is the kind of pressure that drives investors to gold.
3. While the timeframe in question for the differing results from SLV and GLD is only the past couple of months, the disparate performance between the SPDR Gold Trust and the iShares Silver Trust may be a microcosm of a much bigger theme. While gold is largely a speculative investment instrument, silver is a metal consumed predominantly for industrial and functional purposes. Specifically, 54% of annual silver consumption is for industrial applications, with less than 20% of it allocated to investing and 18% allocated for use in jewelry. Gold, on the other hand, sees 43% of its annual supply used to make jewelry, with roughly 30% of it purchased as in investment. Only about 10% of gold is needed for industrial uses. Point being, the demand for gold can come and go quite a bit, but demand for silver is rather consistent. Ergo, the price of silver may tend to be on firmer footing.
So which of these factors is driving silver right now?
Most likely, all three factors are weighing in on the silver trend, driving it higher than other assets when the tide is pushing in a bullish direction.
What’s the Outlook for Silver?
While silver may be the current commodity to beat, in the grand scheme of things, that recent leadership may be irrelevant. The commodity is still in a long-term downtrend, and with fears of inflation being unmerited so far, it’s not as if precious metals are in their proverbial sweet spot.
Currency unrest (or lack thereof) isn’t going to help much, either. While renewed tensions in the Middle East as well as Ukraine on top of a potential default on Argentine debt are dramatic on the surface, none of those factors have sparked any fears of currency volatility that would necessitate the need for gold or silver. Indeed, all that overseas turmoil has bolstered the value of the U.S. dollar, by 2.4% since early May. Because silver and gold are priced in U.S. dollars, the dollar’s rally has made the advance from silver and gold a poorly-supported move.
Realistically, the slide we’ve seen from silver and the iShares Silver Trust over the past couple of weeks is apt to continue until silver reaches the key $18.67/ounce mark. That’s where the metal has found a floor three times since July of last year. Testing that support for a fourth time won’t be all that interesting, but should silver break under the $18.67 mark, it’s apt to open the selling floodgates. Only a break above $21.62 per ounce would kick-start a new rally, though that seems like the less likely outcome from here.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.