Silver

This morning in metals news, the strike at Freeport McRoRan’s Grasberg copper mine was extended for a second month, oil prices rose in expectation of supply cuts, and silver prices reached a three-week high.

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Freeport Indonesia Strike Extended

This past Saturday, the union representing thousands of workers at Freeport’s Grasberg copper mine in Papua, Indonesia announced that the ongoing strike will be extended beyond May 30, Reuters reported. As union industrial relations officer Tri Puspital told Reuters, “We will extend the strike for 30 more days.” Approximately 9,000 workers are participating in the strike.

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The reason for the strike revolves around employment. Last month, Freeport laid off about 10% of its 32,000 workers to cut costs, which accrued to the tune of millions thanks to an ongoing dispute with the Indonesian government over rights to the Grasberg mine. “With this problematic combination of protests from workers and tensions with the Indonesian government,” wrote MetalMiner analyst Raul de Frutos earlier this month, “it’s no wonder that investors are concerned about further supply disruptions this year.” It looks like supply disruptions will continue.

A Key Week for Oil

One hopes that this will be the only time when news source after news source mentions Saudi Arabia and glowing orbs in the same headline. In more important news, Bloomberg reported yesterday that Saudi Arabia has received Iraq’s support to extend oil output cuts for nine months, after Saudi Minister of Energy Khalid Al-Falih flew to Baghdad to talk to Jabar al-Luaibi, his Iraqi counterpart. Read more

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Now’s the time to buy those solar panels you’ve been saving up for. This week, Tesla announced that it is taking orders and deposits for solar roof tiles that look stunningly like… regular roof tiles. But therein lies the appeal, and the $42-per-square-foot cost isn’t so bad either, lower than what industry analysts expected, Bloomberg reported.

Keep Your Eye on Silver

This growing interest in solar energy has been supporting the demand for silver, according to the Silver Institute’s World Silver Survey 2017, which Taras Berezowsky covered on MetalMiner this week. As Berezowsky wrote, “According to the report, silver demand for photovoltaic applications shot up 34% to reach 76.6 million ounces. This growth was the strongest since 2010, and it was driven by a 49% increase in global solar panel installations.”

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In addition, “automotive will be an interesting sector to watch,” Berezowsky wrote. Silver demand could be driven up further as the world moves towards electric vehicles — whose engines and circuit boards require silver — however slowly, as Stuart Burns noted earlier this morning.

Bearish Times

“If you are a metal buyer, it doesn’t matter if you buy aluminum, copper, steel or tin,” Raul de Frutos wrote in his commodities outlook this week. “The information in this article is important for you.” Commodities may have enjoyed a bull market in early 2016, but things appear to have shifted to the bear-ish. “Commodities not only have struggled to make new headway,” de Frutos wrote. “In the past few days they have weakened significantly. Recent moves in China have caused a significant shift of sentiment in financial markets.” Read more

Source: Gildor Elendill. Licensed under CC-BY

Now that Black Sails has signed off and Long John Silver is on to new adventures, it’s time to turn our attention to a different type of silver — one type of material that Silver himself spent many of his buccaneer days trying to amass.

But whereas Silver and his crew may have preoccupied themselves with coins, bars and doubloons (the former two are still big in 2017; doubloons? not so sure), we here at MetalMiner like to see how the precious metal factors into industrial end-use sectors and applications.

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Turns out that one of those applications — solar panel installations, specifically — made quite a splash in the Silver Institute’s World Silver Survey 2017, produced by the GFMS team at Thomson Reuters and released just this morning.

But first, a quick high-level overview.

Topline Takeaways

Global silver mine production declined by 0.6% in 2016 to a total of 885.8 million ounces — the first such decline since 2002, according to the report.

In addition, although primary silver production increased 1% last year, silver scrap supply, despite higher silver prices, fell to 139.7 million ounces in 2016. This is a level that has not been seen in 20 years, according to the Silver Institute’s press release for the report.

“If we look forward, we don’t think [this overall mine production drop] will be a one-off, either,” said Johann Wiebe, lead analyst of metals demand at the GFMS Team/Thomson Reuters in London, in an interview. “It’ll be a prolonged drop in supply until 2019-ish. Not large, but maybe a 2% drop annually. That’s quite a shift.”

It’s not surprising, Wiebe added, if one has seen the capital expenditures retreating over the past few years, with miners looking to protect their margins. Other non-precious metal production of base metals such as lead, zinc and copper, among others, affects the silver market — the link between precious metal and base metal commodities, in other words, is tighter than at first glance when it comes to production trends. Read more

The launch of the London Metal Exchange‘s new precious metals contracts will be delayed until July 10, more than a month later than previously announced, it said on Monday.

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The new gold and silver contracts, a mix of daily and monthly contracts designed to enable industrial users to hedge specific dates, were due to go live in early June.

Lighthizer Clears Committee for Confirmation as US Trade Rep

President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. trade representative cleared a Senate committee on Tuesday, bringing the administration closely to enacting its full trade policy.

Washington lawyer Robert Lighthizer’s nomination cleared the Senate Finance Committee 26-0. Lighthizer is seen as an ally of the manufacturing industries. The panel also voted to approve a legal waiver for Lighthizer from a 1995 law that prohibits people who did work on behalf of foreign governments from serving as the top U.S. trade negotiator.

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“Bob Lighthizer understands the issues that the U.S. steel industry faces today and we are certain he will make an outstanding United States Trade Representative (USTR),” said Thomas Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron & Steel Institute, the largest trade group of North American steelmakers. “We thank Senator Hatch and the other members of the Senate Finance Committee for holding an executive session to progress Bob’s nomination. American manufacturers need a qualified USTR and we urge the Senate to promptly confirm Bob Lighthizer.”

Lighthizer’s confirmation now moves on to the full Senate.

Our monthly Global Precious Metals MMI dipped down a point in April from last month, losing 1.2% to end up at 83.

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Ultimately, most gold, silver, platinum and palladium price points from the U.S., China, Japan and India dropped off for the month, which led to the sub-index’s overall decline — but there was one price point that decided to blaze its own trail upward.

The U.S. palladium bar price rose 3.4% over the past month, the third straight month of increases on the MetalMiner IndX.

What’s Going on with Palladium?

Well, automotive sector demand for palladium, at least on a spot or short-term basis, would be a hard case to make.

As my colleague, Jeff Yoders, reported earlier this week, U.S. automakers’ sales figures for March came in below market expectations and gave early evidence that America’s long boom cycle for automotive sales may finally be losing steam.

Automakers sold 1.56 million new cars and trucks in March, a 1.6% decline compared with the same month a year ago.

For example, Ford Motor Company took the biggest hit among sales drops, seeing its March numbers fall more than 7% from February’s.

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According to a recent Seeking Alpha article, “going into 2017 the market was considering limited supply to be the primary factor supporting palladium prices,” with limited sector growth expected from the U.S. and European markets, and China being the only auto market to be counted on for buoyed sales.

The above has generally held true, while seasonality and investor interest in ETFs seemed to have been playing into palladium’s rise. This could well be the high point for palladium prices this first half of the year.

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It is rare that companies with a professional reputation like those of Thomson Reuters and the CME Group compete for the privilege of running such an important price benchmark as the London Silver Fix, a global benchmark that has been in place 117 years and has its origins in the London coffee shops of the 1700s. Even more rare? To announce after three short years they are stepping down from providing that service.

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CME Group and Thomson Reuters assumed control of executing the daily Silver Price Fix on Aug. 14, 2014, from the London Silver Market Fixing Company. CME Group has been providing the electronic auction platform on which the price is calculated and Thomson Reuters has been responsible for administration and governance of the LBMA silver price both our own Jeff Yoders and Reuters reported. So why, once a suitable replacement can be found, are the two firms stepping down from their respective roles in running the LBMA Silver Auction?

The simple truth seems to be that they are not making any money out of it. According to MarketWatch, new European legislation set for implementation in January 2018 will regulate the provision of, contribution to and use of a wide set of benchmarks which are highly regulated and deeply scrutinized, the site quotes Ross Norman Chief Executive Officer of Sharps Pixley Ltd. as saying.

“It follows there is much work and cost, but for very modest commercial reward, plus the ever-present danger of legal action or reputational damage — whether guilty or not.” Norman said. ‘Few sensible or sane people would want to create a financial benchmark — and, yet, it is absolutely necessary for the normal functioning of markets.”

You should ask, if that is the case, and Ross Norman probably knows better than anyone, who is going to take it on?

One site valued the total of above-ground silver holdings at approximately 1 billion ounces, putting the physical value at some $17 billion, but Bloomberg assessed the total silver-based financial market at closer to $5 trillion, much of which takes its price cue from the London Fix. It seems inconceivable that one of the major banks, or a number of them in cooperation, that currently contribute to the LBMA silver price will not step in to take over.

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If they don’t, the Silver Fix could conceivably migrate to Shanghai in the same way that the center of gravity for gold price-fixing has been gradually migrating east over the last decade.

CME Group and Thomson Reuters will step down from providing the LBMA silver price benchmark auction, the London Bullion Market Association said on Friday, less than three years after they successfully bid to provide the process.

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“In consultation with the LBMA, CME Group and Thomson Reuters have decided to step down from their respective roles in relation to the LBMA Silver Price auction,” the LBMA said in a members update seen by Reuters.

The two will continue to operate and administer the silver auction until a new provider is appointed, the LBMA said. It will launch a new tender to appoint an alternative provider to operate the process “shortly”, it said.

“We would be looking to identify a new provider in the summer, and have the new platform up and running in the autumn,” an LBMA spokesman said.

The two companies launched the LBMA silver price in August 2014 to replace the telephone-based London silver “fix,” which had been in operation for more than a century, with an electronic, auction-based and auditable alternative.

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CME Group provides the electronic auction platform for the benchmark, while Thomson Reuters is responsible for administration and governance. The LBMA owns the intellectual property rights.

Philippines Might Consider Indonesia-Style Ore Export Ban

The Philippines may consider banning exports of raw minerals to encourage domestic processing and boost the value of shipments, an environment official said on Friday, as the government looks to extract more from its mining sector after a crackdown.

Well, perhaps these rebounds are not quite worthy of The Worm — but our Global Precious Metals MMI has hit its highest level since October 2016, climbing 7.9% to 82 for the February reading.

PGMs Lead the Way

Two of the biggest movers on MetalMiner’s precious metal sub-index were U.S. prices of platinum and palladium, rising 10.2% and 10.9%, respectively.

That palladium increase nearly got the price to the 18-month December 2016 high.

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Here’s the deal with palladium in a nutshell, from MoneyWeek:

“Both U.S. and Chinese car sales have been solid of late, with the latter rising at their fastest pace in three years (in 2016) and the former potentially set for another boost thanks to President Trump’s fiscal stimulus. China’s pollution problem is forcing it to tighten car emission standards, adds Chen Lin on Equities.com, which implies a steady rise in demand for palladium over the next few years.

“On the supply side, South Africa, the world’s top supplier, is not expected to increase mined output much. Analysts reckon that dwindling sales from Russia’s stockpiles means they are probably nearly depleted. TD Securities thinks the market deficit could double this year.”

What a Gold Mine!

Our intrepid editor at large, Stuart Burns — you might remember him from world-class macroeconomic coverage as it pertains to industrial metals, or (our) voice of James Bond’s Q — recently explored the wilds of India, and with him, he brought back gold.

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Or, to be more accurate, some gold coverage.
Soon we’ll publish Stuart’s take on the gold import situation in India. Here’s a taste:

“Although India has mines that go back more than 120 years, its annual gold production is miniscule. According to an article in the Hindu Times, that could be about to change. The Kolar gold field was forced to close in 2001 due to mounting losses at operator Bharat Gold. The state-owned company had been mining the Kolar reserves since independence in 1947 but the mines are deep, down to 3 kilometers, and Bharat was operating with outmoded technology and a large unproductive legacy workforce. But Mineral Exploration Corp. estimates show reserves to be worth $1.17 billion in the mines, with another $880.28 million in gold-bearing deposits estimated to be left over in residual dumps from previous mining operations.

India is never likely to rival South Africa, Canada or Australia as a gold miner, but that’s not the point — any contribution will lessen the impact gold imports have on the country’s balance of payments. With domestic reserves estimated at over 100 metric tons, there appears to be scope — with the right state and government backing — for miners to reduce some of those imports and create domestic employment.”

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MetalMiner’s Global Precious Metals MMI dropped two points this month to 79, from 81 in November; a 2.5% decrease. But that’s less the story than what happened within this precious metals sub-index.

The PGM Story

As we said last month, longer-term structural concerns remain for the platinum-group metals (PGMs), especially platinum and palladium. However, in the short term, one of those two precious metals that are instrumental in automotive catalytic converters kept the Global Precious MMI from falling even further for December.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_December-2016_FNL

Indeed, with gold and silver falling across all four geographic markets (see below), our U.S palladium bar price jumped to an 18-month high, rising a whopping 24% month-over-month. Japanese palladium also rose appreciably.

The platinum bar price, however, did the reverse. Our U.S. platinum bar price hit a 10-month low, dropping 7% since Nov. 1.

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Crossing like ships in the night, one heading north, one heading south, what should buyers make of the platinum/palladium divergence?

According to HSBC senior analyst James Steel, talking to Platts, “the platinum-palladium spread has narrowed substantially, from $375/ounce before the U.S. election. This reflects clearly tighter underlying fundamentals for palladium.”

With car sales in the U.S. and China continuing to be robust, and with Johnson Matthey predicting another supply deficit in 2017, palladium could continue its buoyancy for the near future.

The Dollar –> Infrastructure –> Gold

Raul de Frutos gave MetalMiner readers this helpful rundown in late November:

A rising dollar depresses commodity prices, especially precious metals. It does have less of an effect on more economically-sensitive groups like energy and industrial metals. Indeed, industrial metals are on the rise despite a strong dollar. This is because the dollar is rising on expectations of higher rates down the road but, at the same time, metal prices are getting an additional boost because of Trump’s plans to spend big on the nation’s infrastructure. However, gold’s demand won’t be affected by infrastructure spending. As a result, investors are left without reasons to buy gold at this moment.

That still appears to be the case here in early December, as the US gold price on our MetalMiner IndX hit its lowest point in 10 months, falling to $1,173/oz on Dec. 1 — just over an 8% drop from Nov. 1.

(Silver prices followed suit across 4 markets globally, all dropping from November to December.)

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MetalMiner’s Global Precious MMI dropped 5.8% to a value of 81 for November, the sub-index’s lowest level since June.

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In the midst of worries over the U.S. presidential election and the Federal Reserve‘s interest rate moves, precious metal prices have been on the rise over the past week.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_November-2016_FNL

Many investors are girding for a Brexit-like jump if Republican contender Donald Trump wins; the U.S. palladium price, for example, coming off $700/ounce-level highs from early October to just around $600/oz at the start of November, jumped back up to $630 mid-last week.

Focus on Palladium Prices

While some more short-term spikes are undoubtedly coming, longer-term structural concerns continue to swirl around the PGM markets in particular.

In just last month’s analysis of another MetalMiner monthly sub-index (the Automotive MMI), my colleague Jeff Yoders brought up excellent points about the state of the platinum group metals:

“The increasing cost of PGMs was keeping the Automotive MMI in positive territory for most of the first three quarters of 2015. The pullback in precious metals prices could pull the rug out from under automotive, too. The catalyst metals never took off for investors the way that gold did and that’s bad news for their prices as supply was never really in much doubt without more investor interest.”

Now, it looks as though that’s coming true.

Bloomberg reports that palladium futures “tumbled to the lowest in more than three months amid signs of weakening investment and physical demand for the metal used in auto pollution control devices.”

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Phil Streible, a senior market strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago, told Bloomberg that “demand is really starting to fall.”

“You’re going to see that as interest rates go up in the U.S., auto loan rates will rise and you’re probably going to see automobile sales decline,” according to Streible.

The Rest of the Precious Metals

Platinum, silver and gold prices fell across the board from October to November, across geographies including the U.S., China and India.

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