Steve St. Angelo on Silver Supply Deficit, Market Manipulation, and Debt Overhang
Mike Gleason: It is my privilege now to welcome in Steve St. Angelo of The SRSrocco Report. Steve is an independent researcher and investor who follows the precious metals and energies markets like few others, and has one of the very best content based websites in our entire industry. Steve, welcome back, it's good to talk to you again.
Steve St Angelo: Yeah Mike, looking forward to the conversation.
Mike Gleason: To start out here, Steve, it's been several months since we spoke last, so give me your take on the action in the metals here this year, specifically what's driving the recent pullback from the late April highs in gold and silver.
Steve St Angelo: Well I think what the number one factor that caused the big jump in not only physical, but also ETF, mostly gold ETF demand was the big crash in the market, the big correction, 2,000 points (in the DOW). What was interesting about this, this time around, there was like 364 tons that flowed into the gold ETF just in the first quarter. You've got to go back all the way to 2009, during the first quarter 2009, when the DOW was crashing to like 6,600, it was 400, I believe 50 tons went into gold ETF that quarter, because investors were scared to death. Well it only fell 2,000 points Mike, and investors flocked into the gold ETF like the world was falling apart. On a regular, let's say, 10 or 15% correction. So this time around, investors were very worried that this was going to be the big one.
Well it didn't happen. By the time April came around, the markets recovered and sentiment has changed. Another thing that is on the back of gold and silver prices is the huge commercial short positions. They have increased to record highs as of a week or 2 ago, so investors are looking at that. Now what we needed to do was break through $1,300 gold, and $18 silver. That may have pushed a lot more stress on the commercials. We almost got there, but it seems as if that was the line that commercial banks used, and we had some huge $2, $3 billion gold knockdowns in a few minutes on several days, and that did it. And so this is where we're at now, and so sentiment is much lower because we didn't get passed those $1,300 gold and $18 silver marks. Now we're waiting to see how these commercial shorts play out and what happens going forward. That's how I see the market right now.
Mike Gleason: Definitely want to talk to you a lot about the supply side of things. You cover that so closely and have so much great content on that. You recently broke down the massive increase in demand for the Silver Eagles and Silver Maple Leafs and pointed out that the combined annual silver mine production between the U.S. and Canada is short of all the ounces needed each year to mint these 2 coins, which is a big shift from 10 or 15 years ago. Talk about this here, Steve, what did you learn in your research and what conclusion did you draw there? Because this is a very interesting development in the supply/demand dynamic here in North America.
Steve St Angelo: I do think it's important for your readers and listeners to understand, we need to focus more on the mid to long term fundamentals, because fundamentals always win out in the end, even with market manipulation. And we'll get into that towards the latter part of the interview. In 2001, U.S. and Canada was producing a little more than 95 million ounces of silver, and Maples and Silver Eagle sales were like 9 million, so it was less than 10% of overall production. Like you said, 2015, mine supply was 47 million. It fell by half, but just the demand from Silver Eagles and Maples, it was 81 million last year. It was like 33, 34 million ounces more than the Canadian and U.S. mine supply.
Back in 2001, they had extra silver they could use for industrial purposes, jewelry, silverware, but now they have to import 33 million ounces of silver just to cover the U.S. Eagle and Maple Leaf programs. That's phenomenal. So it's the ongoing trends that we're looking at. The North Americans, for some reason, they like to collect silver coins, where in Asia, or let's say India, it's more silver bar. So we're seeing a lot more coins, even rounds, being purchased by North Americans. That's what's driving the investment market. I think going forward, we're going to see much higher, I would say maybe 90 million ounces of combined U.S. Eagle and Silver Maples this year. And I think production will be about the same, so it's going to be maybe another 7, 8 million deficit just for that. That's huge, Mike.
Mike Gleason: Yeah, and one of the things I found really interesting was the report you did recently highlighting how global investment demand for physical silver bullion products has gone from being a mere 8% of what industrial demand was 10 years ago to now half of what global industrial demand is. And we're not seeing a big drop off in industrial demand, necessarily, although it is down a bit. Who knows, Steve, at this rate, we could soon see more silver production needed for investment purposes than is needed for industrial applications. That's truly mind boggling based on where we've been. What are your thoughts here?
Steve St Angelo: If we look at 2005, 6 and 7, investment demand, which is physical bar and coin, was 8%, for each of those years, 8%. Then 2008 came around and things changed. What happened? We had the first collapse of the U.S. banking and housing market. I call it the first because the second one is still on its way. They're doing everything they can to keep that from happening, but they can't do it forever. In 2008, it jumped to 29% that year. And now, GFMS has recently included, in their data, privately (minted) rounds and bars. They did not include that before. They couldn't get a good figure. What they did is they included it this year in their 2016 world silver survey for 2015 data. It really jumped, I think, 40 to 50 million ounces of silver bar and coin demand last year. So they actually had to revise their figures for 2014, 13 and so on. And so that is what really pushed up investment demand, which is now 50% of industrial demand.
Now here's the thing: the reason why we got off of the silver standard back in the 60s, was silver became too valuable to use in currency. It's really that's what happened, because we were using so much in industry, we couldn't do both. We couldn't have silver coinage and (silver needed for) industry, as well as jewelry and silverware. There just wasn't enough silver. What they did is they took it out of the coin, because it would actually push up the price of the coin too. Now we've been using industry, which has been devouring silver, and half of it is gone forever. Now I do see, at some point in time, if we just had a doubling of last year, it would surpass, if we had a doubling of silver investment where institutions really came in, like investors were worried in the first quarter this year. Once we get a big crash in the markets, just a doubling from the almost 300 million ounces of bar and coin last year, to 600; it would surpass industrial demand, and because silver and gold are real money. So I do see, at some point, the demand will really surge and I don't think they will be with the supply, Mike.
Mike Gleason: Furthering the point here, you've been following the supply deficit in silver for a long while, and I want to get your comments on the Thomson Reuters statistics on global silver supply and demand here, Steve. You recently reported on a revision that makes the deficit in supply worldwide much larger than originally published. So the market has been able to run for more than a decade with this persistent shortage, yet prices, while quite a bit higher than 10 or 15 years ago, they've been lower for the last 5 years. So what gives there?
Steve St Angelo: In just a few months, let's say 6 months, they revised a little more than a billion ounce deficit since 2004 to almost to 1.3 billion ounce deficit. So it was a little less than 300 million ounces they added to the deficit. Now I've had an email exchange with the head GFMS silver analyst and I asked, I said, "I've heard that there were deficits early in the 1980s and 1990s." They sent me the actual supply/demand and deficits since 1975. And if I look at all of them, there were surpluses in the 80s, and there were surpluses especially in the 90s when investors dumped a lot of bar on the market in the middle of the decade, because they thought prices would recover, but they never did. So there were surpluses in the 80s, surpluses in the 90s, and it turned out to be about 1.6 billion ounces. That's from both of those decades.
Well guess what? From 2000 to 2015, it's been a 1.6 billion ounce deficit. So in all actuality, this last 15 years we've been living on the surpluses of the market in the last 2 decades prior. So why hasn't that impacted price? Well because the market is rigged. The market is totally rigged. Why is the DOW going up when we're getting the worst fundamental data coming out? It is a very strange market, but unfortunately, just like Bear Stearns, Bear Stearns was a company that imploded, and so did Lehman Brothers, in no time. But the fundamentals, to understand that they were weak and that they weren't worth their stock price and that they were bankrupt, that was known probably 2, 3 years before if you really understood the data.
And this is the issue we're dealing with now. Silver and gold are undervalued because the market really doesn't understand the data. When the market understands the data, and when the real fundamentals kick in, it will be reverse Lehman Brothers, reverse Bear Stearns, and that's when we'll see the price of gold and silver finally take off.
Mike Gleason: Obviously with the increase in investment demand here, we're seeing a lot of metal flow over to the East, maybe leaving weak hands in the West, going to strong hands in the East. And that metal's likely not to come back anytime soon, so maybe there are more products going into investors' hands, but they're not going to necessarily be willing to give that up unless we see significantly higher prices. I have to think that that's going to be a big part of this as well, is that in order to draw that product back on to the market, if somebody's going to sell it at a profit, they're going to need to see significantly higher prices before they do that, because we are seeing a lot of metal go into very strong hands. Do you see it the same way?
Steve St Angelo: Oh yes, and we have to remember, look what happened in 2011, when the average annual price of silver was over $35, even though we had high silver scrap supply come into the market. It was about 240 million ounces, that was it, that's all that came on the market was 240 million ounces and it was all absorbed. So even if the price doubled to $100, if we saw that price, I actually think we could see less scrap. Because here's the issue: when people have a gold coin, and when Americans bought a lot of gold jewelry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they bought a lot of gold jewelry because the price of gold was low and things were going good for them back then. So Americans used it for adornment and bragging purposes, where Indians use it for a nest egg. It's like their retirement, their wealth. Where Americans use it to show that they've got a nice gold ring. People will take that gold, and they will get it pawned, because it's worth the effort to go to the pawn shop and get $500 or $800 for it.
But a silver ring doesn't have an ounce of silver in it. Even if at $100, you're not going to go down to the coin store, or the jewelry store, and pawn it for like $40. This is the reason why jewelry is not really recycled in silver. Whereas gold jewelry is, because the price is so much higher. So I don't see a huge increase of supply coming into the market. And even if prices really move higher, and even if it does Mike, I think it's going to be absorbed. It will be absorbed very rapidly because gold and silver will be the go to assets to own in the future.
Mike Gleason: Certainly, if recycling is not going to necessarily increase substantially with higher prices, then where's that supply going to come from. We know that mine production, of course it takes a long time for mines to sort of get things ramped back up. A lot of them are shuttering mines right now, going on care maintenance. And it doesn't just happen immediately to bring those back online as prices rise. I want to talk to you about the DOW-Silver ratio. You've been doing some studies on that. What have you learned through that research Steve, the DOW-silver ratio?
Steve St Angelo: Well I think this is important because we don't realize how out of whack everything is, Mike. Back in 1980, when silver hit $49, and it also hit $49 in May of 2011, 30 something years; the difference was the DOW Jones was 864 points in the first quarter of 1980. It was like, I think it was like the 12 or 13,000 range in 2011. So the DOW Jones silver ratio, 1980, was 25 to 1. And then over the next several decades, it really went high, it was 2,500 in June 2001. So you could buy a hundred times more silver in 2001, compared to the DOW Jones, than you could in 1980. Well when the prices really increased in 2011, it fell to 250 to 1, the DOW Jones to silver ratio fell to 250 to 1. It fell 10 times. Now it's about 1,000 to 1.
The thing I want your listeners and readers to understand is this: as the DOW Jones increased 21 times its value since 1980, U.S. debt has increased 22 times. And the total U.S. retirement market has increased 25 times. So when you figure all those together, all those assets, the DOW Jones and the U.S. retirement market; they all increased almost the same amount as the debt has increased. So all those assets out there are debt assets. They're not real assets. An asset is something you can sell. Retirement accounts and the DOW Jones are claims on future economic activity. And as I've told you about my energy analysis, we're peaking in U.S. oil production, and it's just going to get worse from here. So the market has funneled assets from physical assets back in the 1970s and 80s, into paper assets, which are the DOW Jones, which are U.S. treasuries, which are the retirement market, and it's all backed on debt. There's no coincidence that all these paper assets have ballooned 20 plus times on the back of U.S. debt increasing 22 times. This is the issue.
And investors don't realize it, Mike, that they're invested in claims. They're not invested in assets. And silver, the average price was $30 in the first quarter of 1980. It's $16 today. If investors had been putting their money, instead of in a retirement account, which is a Ponzi scheme, and they had put it in gold and silver, the values of gold and silver would have been much higher today. And the retirement market, or the DOW Jones, would have been much less. That's the problem. This is what's happened over the past 3 decades.
Mike Gleason: Speaking of energy, you alluded to it there a moment ago, anyone who visits your site, Steve, will see the acronym EROI, which stands for Energy Returned on Invested. I want to explore this with you for a minute here, and have you explain that to our listeners, but before we go any further, I want to read an excerpt from an article you put out this week related to this subject and then I'll get your comments. You wrote:
"Folks, it won't matter how much money is floating around in the future as energy production plummets. Who cares if there are trillions of M2 or M3 outstanding,”… and you're talking about the money supply there… "When we won't have enough energy to continue running a system that only can function by a growing energy supply. To base the future value of gold on outstanding currency is folly.
Which is precisely why I label gold and silver as investments. They're value will surge as most paper and physical asset values collapse. The reevaluation of gold and silver will occur well beyond the collapse of fiat money. They will also rise in value due to the disintegration of most physical and paper assets. This is well beyond the scope of money or insurance."
So please give us a brief explanation of EROI, in layman's terms, and then expand on the excerpt I just read and tell us why you believe this is all going to point to much higher gold and silver prices.
Steve St Angelo: Yeah Mike, my analysis is different than most of the precious metals analysis, because they look at the Austrian School of Economics, and they look at the money supply. Jim Sinclair, and even Jim Rickards, they forecast $10,000, $15,000, $20,000, $30,000 gold based upon how much money supply is out there. As you stated in that quote, it won't matter how much M1 or M2, or M3 is out there if energy production declines. And so we have to remember, the huge debt that we have now is $20 trillion. That's just public and private. I call that energy debt. The problem we have now, and it's all based on the energy return on invested, and simply, the energy return on invested means how much energy you put in to get energy out.
And when this country first started getting into producing oil, it was high, it was 100 to 1. So when we put one barrel of energy out, we burned one barrel of energy, we'd get 100 barrels in the market. It has fallen drastically. In the 1920s, 1 barrel found 1,500 barrels. Now it's 5 to 1. As a matter of fact, ConocoPhillips, because the price is so low, ConocoPhillips is actually excluded exploration, and they've stopped all exploration. ConocoPhillips is the third largest oil company in the United States. They're finding now 5 to 1, but I think that's even going to fall. The energy return on invested is really declining. The shale oil industry is 5 to 1, where it used to be 100 to 1. In 1970 it was 30 to 1.
So our economy, our modern society, needs something 12 to 1 energy returned on invested, and shale oil isn't paying the bills. Deep-water is like 10 to 1. We are in big trouble. Let me tell you how much trouble we're in. The U.S. energy sector is facing $370 billion in debt. And last year, they paid almost $17 billion of their operating profits just to pay the service, the interest on their debt. Not to pay the debt down, just to pay the interest on the debt. Well it was even worse in the first quarter of this year. It was 86% of their profits went just to pay the interest on the debt.
Now yes, the oil price has gone up a little bit, but the reason why the oil price has gone up a little bit is because China is absorbing a lot. They have increased their strategic reserve. The world isn't consuming all this oil, some of it is being stockpiled at these cheap prices. So I don't think we're going to see higher prices. We could see lower prices here, once China finally fills up their reserve. So the thing is, going forward, U.S. oil production is already down almost a million barrels since its high last year. A million is gone, and it's not coming back. We can't afford higher oil prices, either. That was a 3, 4 year phenomenon because of 0% interest rates and money printing. It might go on a little bit longer, but the debt now is too high, Mike. This is a problem.
The debt in the energy industry, as I just explained to you, and the debt in the system is too high. It's $6 of debt to get $1 of GDP. It's a disaster. Now how long can this go on? It could probably go on a little bit longer, but the fundamentals will kick in, and when those fundamentals kick in, by gosh, if you're in paper assets, and if you're in real estate; you're going to be in trouble. Because paper assets are going to implode, and real estate prices are going to implode because they're going to be sunk assets, because you can't run a huge suburban economy on 20, 30, 50% less of the energy you use to running it. That's going to impact real estate prices.
I've been saying this in interviews with you over the past year or 2, but it just gets worse going forward, and investors don't see this. Most investors don't see it, but it's going to make its way, and when it does make its way, again, that's why I think the best liquid assets to own are physical gold and silver, and they are investments. They will be much more than just money. And that's how I see it.
Mike Gleason: Yeah it's a very fascinating outlook and take on everything. That's one reason why we like to have you on so much. You bring a very unique perspective there, one that a lot of people are not considering and I always enjoy talking to you about that. Well before we let you go, Steve, if you can let our listeners know how they can learn a little bit more about The SRSrocco Report, what they'll find there, and then any parting words before we close.
Steve St Angelo: At The SRSrocco Report, we put out about 2 or 3 articles, mostly on precious metals, mining and then I include energy, even though, unfortunately, when I do an energy article, the reads are maybe 10%, 15% of the precious metals, but actually it should be the other way around. The energy is the driver. If a person is sick, if they say, "I'm deathly sick. I can't get out of bed." You don't have the energy. You have the flu, it takes you out. You can't get out of bed. You can't go to work. You have to have the energy to get out of bed. You have to have the energy in your car, the gasoline, to get you to work. And you have to have the energy that actually runs the whole system. Unfortunately, solar and wind and renewables; they don't work. They'll never work. On an individual basis, it's probably wise to have solar on your home, if the grid goes down, but on large scale, they don't work. They won't ever work, unfortunately. I've done the math on them.
So in the future, your readers and listeners should continue looking at the fundamentals. And the fundamentals are showing us more people are getting into the metals, even though the price doesn't show it. And the energy situation, it continues to get worse. And so with the debt now on the system, it's going to be hard for the establishment to continue business as usual. I don't know how long this will continue, but each 6 months, each year; it just gets worse. And the best thing to do is to purchase precious metals physically, on an ongoing basis just like your retirement account. Instead of having claims, or IOUs, in an account, it's better to have stored economic energy in a gold or silver coin or bar in a place of safekeeping. And that's how I see the thing going forward, Mike.
Mike Gleason: We both agree that we don't know exactly when the system is going to collapse, but it certainly looks like we're headed that direction. And it's probably just a matter of time. It's all very enlightening stuff. More people need to wake up and recognize what's going on here, and I think you're a big part of that Steve. Thanks for all the work that you do there. We appreciate your time as always, and hope you have a great weekend. Look forward to catching up with you again soon.
Steve St Angelo: All right Mike, always a pleasure. Thank you.
Mike Gleason: Well that will do it for this week. Thanks again to Steve St. Angelo of SRSroccoReport.com, one of the best metals markets related sites in the entire industry. It talks a lot about the energy and ties it all together. Be sure to check that out.
Mike Gleason is a Director with Money Metals Exchange, a national precious metals dealer with over 50,000 customers. Gleason is a hard money advocate and a strong proponent of personal liberty, limited government and the Austrian School of Economics. A graduate of the University of Florida, Gleason has extensive experience in management, sales and logistics as well as precious metals investing. He also puts his longtime broadcasting background to good use, hosting a weekly precious metals podcast since 2011, a program listened to by tens of thousands each week.