Chinese demand to Buy Silver for solar panel manufacture will push the price to three digits, says this fund manager...
MANAGING big-cap growth stock market funds since 1999, Stephen Leeb – chairman and chief investment officer of Leeb Capital Management – has recently been a big proponent of silver, calling for the Silver Price to rise above $100 an ounce, despite its record price being half that.
Here Stephen Leeb talks to Hard Assets Investor's managing editor Drew Voros about why he believes demand to Buy Silver, particularly from China, will push the commodity up to three-digit prices.
Hard Assets Investor: You have declared that silver is a "three-digit" commodity. Why?
Stephen Leeb: I think there are two crucial fundamentals. One, silver's a monetary metal, although not as widely recognized as a monetary metal as gold right now. But it certainly has a history of being a monetary metal. People will price it for that. You have a race to the bottom in terms of all the current reserve currencies, like the Euro and the Dollar. The action in gold is certainly evidence of that. The fact that silver's price [has been] holding in the upper 30s is pretty good. There's a lot of downside protection in silver because of its monetary component.
On the industrial side, silver is critical. Silver has properties that cannot be duplicated on many levels. It is the best thermo-conductor of anything that's found. It conducts heat better than anything else. It conducts electricity better than copper or anything else. And, it's one of the best reflectors. Is it really surprising then that silver is a critical component on most solar applications? China right now is spending about $1 trillion a year on alternative energies. China controls the solar industry. They have at least 50% market share. They've been underbidding, undercutting everybody in the development and acquisition of polysilicon. After which comes silver. In order to build these solar panels, you need silver.
You have a potential, utter squeeze coming on silver, a monetary metal with critical industrial applications. The Silver Price is trading around $39 and hasn't even come down 10% since the market started sliding. It's a great hedge in deflation. You're going to have demand for silver coming from two places, which I don't think you're going to be able to satisfy, given that silver production today is rising at a much slower rate than it was in 2010, despite the fact that Silver Prices are higher. That dictates dramatically higher prices for silver.
HAI: Do you think the solar element is something that is being overlooked in terms of the demand?
Leeb: Totally. China will start Buying Silver much more aggressively and start accumulating it. There's very little doubt in my mind that China will be accumulating massive amounts of silver.
HAI: For silver to achieve three digits in price, would it be a slow, steady march, or something that would rocket up?
Leeb: I don't think it would be a single event. I wrote a book, The Oil Factor, and in it I made the call for $100 [a barrel] oil. I said "three digit oil". When the book was published in 2004, oil was around $30 or so, about the same price as silver is now. It took about three years to get to three digits. But there was no event that triggered the big jump in oil prices. There has been no event that has triggered the big jump in Euros, other than the gradual realization that there are no reserve currencies in the world that are worth a darn. The same realization will keep silver in a strong, long-term uptrend. I think people are going to be very surprised, very surprised, when the Silver Price just goes past $50.
HAI: Is $50 the figure that, once it breaks through that, it can take off, or is it further up the line?
Leeb: No, people make too much of these breakout points. If it goes to $50, it's likely to go to $51 pretty quick. I'm sort of being funny. I don't think that it'll tick at $50, and then the next tick will be $80. If it goes to $50 it will likely get a little pop, maybe low $50s or mid-$50s and walk around there for a while and then go up again.
HAI: Do you think that that would happen independent of gold?
Leeb: It will be independent of gold. I think all commodities are going to have to go a lot higher. I just don't think there are enough commodities out there to build out renewal or alternative energies. I don't think China realizes it. I mean, you've got peak [price] coal, you've got peak oil, peak everything. Silver, even without the monetary component, would make it into three digits.
HAI: You seem to have a bullish sense of growth; global growth as well?
Leeb: I wouldn't say global growth. I'm bullish on Chinese growth. China's a wicked enemy of ours. They're monopolizing resources. They'll continue to do that because I think they're looking out for their own. It's hard to have a totally bullish outlook on growth when you're looking at resource scarcities that are going to affect China as well.
HAI: Do you think that gold and silver are in the same asset class?
Leeb: They've never been in exactly the same asset class. There's no industrial use for gold. It's become ever-more recognized as a possible reserve currency. Silver does have industrial uses. It's industrial vs. nonindustrial. They're totally different classes. But silver overlaps. In a diagram, you would have silver in both sets: the industrial set as well as the monetary set.
HAI: What fundamentals of silver do you worry about? What would change your opinion?
Leeb: A lot of it has to do with China. What would change my opinion? If we found other ways of creating solar energy that did not involve silver – and I don't see any on the horizon – that certainly would merit reconsideration. If China collapsed, then the calculus surrounding the world totally changes, including silver, but not just silver.
HAI: How should a retail investor approach silver as an investment?
Leeb: I would approach precious metals as an asset class in and of itself. As an asset class, you try and diversify within the class. There are the commodities themselves, which you can buy through an ETF or you can buy through coins. There are lots of ways of participating. There are senior miners. There are junior gold miners, like NovaGold, which happens to be one of my favorites. Not only does it mine gold, it has a lot of copper. There are going to be seniors like Goldcorp., like Barrick.
HAI: What would you suggest for an asset allocation in precious metals?
Leeb: It makes sense to weight it at least on the same level as you would weight stocks. Whatever your highest allocation is, precious metals should be higher than that allocation.
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