18 November 2009

Silver Prices to Hit New Highs in 2010


Silver may yet outshine gold in 2010 as spot prices for the white metal respond to the prospect of a surge in industrial demand. With a little additional help from investment demand, silver may even rally into the $25 an ounce range.

So says Chintan Parikh, a commodity analyst at the CPM Group - a leading New York-based commodities research, consulting, asset management and investment banking organization.

"Prices may spike as high as $25," he says. At the very least, it should breach its most recent high, which was set at $20.79 in the spring of 2008, he adds.

Parikh says much of this impetus for higher prices is being driven by the fact that traditional industrial end users of silver, such as the ever-burgeoning global electronics industry, have in recent weeks begun to replenish severely depleted inventories.

In fact, silver inventories became so run-down during the financial crisis that it may take up to six months to fully rebuild them to normal levels. Parikh also notes that demand from the industrial sector tends to be quite price inelastic, meaning that buyers have few options other than to pay prevailing prices.

Another key driver for 2010 will be the advent of new market places for silver, including pent-up demand for silver-zinc batteries in ‘smart' automobiles and an array of portable electronic devices, Parikh says.

In fact, the widespread adoption of silver-zinc batteries is going to be "one of the major drivers behind a rise in prices because it may absorb a lot of silver," he adds. Though this important new application for silver might not necessarily become a major factor in demand for silver as early as next year, it promises to become a very sizeable marketplace, he suggests - especially for automobiles.

Notably, China is forecast to become a huge adopter of electric cars to curtail its rising dependence on foreign oil and to reduce its air pollution. In fact, electric cars and hybrid plug-ins will account for more than half the auto market in China by 2020, according to Dr. Wolfgang Bernhart, an auto industry expert with the international think tank, Roland Berger.

Furthermore, silver-zinc batteries are destined to generate major market share as they are said to be much safer, more environmentally-friendly and far more energy-efficient than lithium-ion batteries (which currently dominate the markets for smart cars and portable electronics).

Also, the ever-expanding industrial sector for silver now includes LCD/plasma television screens, solar panels, water purification and even medical and superconductivity applications. It is also finding a critical new use in biocides (which use silver in chemical agents to kill dangerous bacteria, including superbugs).

GFMS, a renowned London precious-metals consulting firm, concurs that overall fabrication demand (which also includes the photography, jewelry silverware sectors) is expected to rebound to "normal levels" in 2010. And the emergence of key new markets for silver is sure to help power this recovery, according to Neil Meader, research director at GFMS.

"It is becoming an increasingly industrial metal and novel new uses will also likely assist the recovery in silver's demand," he says.

However, the restocking of inventories for more of silver's traditional uses will likely be the most powerful demand driver in the near-term, Meader suggests. It may even help propel silver prices into new territory to the extent that "a peak (in prices) could occur late this year or early next year."

The revitalization of industrial demand is an inevitable consequence of silver's growing importance as a high tech metal. In fact, this has grown year on year since 2001 to the onset of the financial crisis. And it only dipped a meager 1.4% to 447 million ounces in 2008.

This long-term growth trend is set against a backdrop of a multi-year rally in silver prices during this time frame, with gold's poorer cousin refusing to be upstaged. It actually tripled in value to average US $15 in 2008 (in spite of its short-lived collapse to around $9). And it is continuing to trend higher this year now that supply/demand dynamics are beginning to reflect a return to a normal economy. All of this clearly demonstrates the price inelasticity of industrial demand.

Ironically, investment demand is also mostly shrugging off higher prices. Not only is there strong physical demand for silver bullion coins and bars, but the recent emergence of silver exchange-traded funds like the iShares Silver Trust is also creating strong additional demand.

Parikh notes that silver offers a safe haven in times of economic upheaval, while it also has the potential for significant investment returns.

"Silver is a unique metal that wins whether the economy is going well or is in bad shape," he says. "In the latter, the investor buys it as a hedge against the downturn in the economy and the markets. And if the economy improves, then the industrial demand increases."

All of this is music to the ears of silver miners, who are already ramping up production to satisfy newly resurgent industrial demand for silver.

Great Panther Resources President Bob Archer, for example, says that he believes that higher silver prices next year will significantly boost the company's bottom line from its Guanajuato and Topia mines in Mexico. Great Panther became cash flow positive earlier this year after producing 1.8 million silver equivalent ounces (silver plus by-product metals, including gold, lead and zinc) in 2008.

"In fact, we're quite bullish on silver prices for 2010. I believe that investment demand will be the biggest driver for higher silver prices next year. That said, I'm sure there will also be an increase in industrial demand going forward."

Marc Davies is the editor of Business News Wire BNWNews.ca


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