Spotlight on Silver Investment 2021
Chapter 1 - Summary
- The strength in silver ETP and coin/bar demand that characterised last year carried over into early 2021.
- Net managed money futures have returned to growth this year after declining sharply in 2020.
- In contrast, silver mining equities have eased back this year (after enjoying a very strong 2020), while silver jewellery demand (a form of investment in many price sensitive markets) should achieve a strong recovery after being ravaged last year.
In this note, some of the key developments in silver investment are assessed, principally this year, focussing on exchange-traded products (ETPs), coins and bars and the futures market. The demand figures in this report are taken from the Metals Focus Five-Year Silver Forecast. Final investment figures for 2020, and for all other areas of global silver supply and demand, will be available in the Silver Institute’s World Silver Survey 2021, released on Thursday, 22 April 2021. For ETPs and coins and bars the spotlight will be on the social media buying frenzy, and the pressure this brought to bear on the supply chain. In the futures market, the analysis looks at the impact of the pandemic on the exchange for physical premium (EFP) and the potential for this dynamic to be repeated should another widespread lockdown emerge.
The past 12-18 months have witnessed some incredible developments in the silver investment market, including a dramatic improvement in investor activity. Looking at the combined value for ETPs, coin and bar demand and net managed money positioning offers some indication of how investment has fared. For 2020, this is estimated to have risen by around 20% to around $10bn, the second highest total recorded by Metals Focus over the past decade, and bettered only by 2012. Although the above figures do not include some key elements — such as futures trading in China or India, nor over-the-counter activity — they are still representative of the overall strength in silver investment last year.
*Combining annual changes in ETPs, annual coin and bar investment, and annual changes in net managed money positions; Source: Metals Focus, Five-Year Silver Forecast
The growth was especially strong in ETPs, followed by retail investment (coin and bar). The former rose by 331Moz last year, a record performance for silver ETPs, in the process breaking through one billion ounces for the first time. With regards to bar and coin demand, according to Metals Focus’ estimates, this sector achieved a four-year high of over 200Moz.
In the futures market, early 2020 saw net managed money longs record more than three-year highs. However, the ensuing travel restrictions and their impact on EFP levels as the pandemic spread had a palpable impact on Comex futures positioning during late Q1/early Q2. Since then, net longs have been partially rebuilt but still remain below those late 2019/early 2020 levels. Silver mining equities also enjoyed a strong 2020, with the Solactive Global Silver Miners (SOLGLOSI) silver mining equity index rising by 44% intra-year, although it has since weakened by some 13% (through to end-March).
Finally, it is worth highlighting the role of silver jewellery, as this is often considered an investment in some parts of the world. This applies to low margin pieces that are sold by weight in price sensitive countries. Most important in this regard is the Indian market, which is comfortably the world’s largest silver jewellery fabricator, and accounts for some 25% of the global total. In keeping with many other countries, Indian silver jewellery demand faced heavy losses in 2020 as a combination of the pandemic and record high Rupee silver prices weighed on the market. However, as lockdown restrictions ease considerably and disposable incomes start to improve, this should help generate a partial recovery in Indian demand.
Turning to early 2021, the growth in silver investment has undoubtedly carried over from last year. The much-publicised social media campaigns have translated into significant gains for silver ETPs and coin and bars demand. For the former, global holdings have risen by 77Moz this year through to end-March. Compared to annual changes over the 2010-20 period, this year has already achieved the fourth largest gain. Coin and bar demand is more difficult to judge given the ongoing and persistent weakness in India, although this has been comfortably offset by significant growth in the US — the world’s largest silver coin and bar market.