Silver to the StratosphereBy Emil Kalinowski, Manager, Metals Market Research, Wheaton Precious Metals International
Published on September 10, 2021
I’m “crazy” about silver’s bullish outlook for the rest of this decade, and I explain why in this article (i.e. green energy, inflation). I could have styled this article in a matter-of-fact way, but I’ve been reading too much science fiction while pining for international travel to resume once again. And so I wondered, What would it be like sitting next to someone? And what if they wouldn’t stop talking? On an interstellar trip? What would I say? Hopefully the content is educational and entertaining. See you at the spaceport.
The other day, while taking my usual stroll through East Coast Park, I was accosted by a disturbed fellow. He queried me, not for directions to Raintree Cove or even when the bullion markets open in London, but about silver and the metal’s role in renewable energy.
“With the global transition to clean energy, what makes silver ‘green’?!”
His tone, I would describe it as yelling. His condition? An advanced case of some Silver Fever variant.
I kept smiling and flipped the safety off my lightweight pocket laser (the latest carbon dioxide model from FairPrice), answering, “Of all metals it is the best conductor of electricity and heat. When polished it’s near-100% reflective; it’s strong, malleable, ductile. That’s why silver is used in renewable energy – to transfer heat, react to light, store and conduct electricity”.
He looked at me expectantly, “So? What’s the popper?”
“The punch, man. You set me up, now knock me down. ‘Ductile!’” he giggled. I regretted not bringing my tachyon grenades. I was forced to buy time until I could think of a polite excuse to flee.
I continued, “Silver will be used in solar panels, electric vehicles and nuclear power. It’ll be deployed in every and any renewable energy project as long as it has need of: switches, relays, conductors, contacts, breakers, fuses, electronics, conductive pastes, electroplating, electromagnetic interference shielding, air conditioning, mirrors, low-emissivity glass, ball bearings, water purification and so on”.
I had hoped to convey that silver will be used wherever society deems that reliability, precision and safety are paramount. But I wasn’t sure how much the man understood as by then a group of orderlies from the Ministry of Health had arrived, strapped him to a gurney and rolled him off in the direction of the Woodbridge Hospital wards.
A fortnight later I found myself at the Tuas Spaceport, waiting impatiently for the hapless desk attendant to figure out why my trip to Collapsar 1A 0620-00 was booked in economy, instead of business. I shouldn’t have cared, as we’d be spending most of the 1,000 parsecs in stasis without the ability to distinguish a reclining sofa from a sardine can. Still, it was the quality of rum served in the two classes that had me concerned.
Once aboard the MASARYK-2, I saw in my row none other than the Silver Bug! I sat down with a heavy sigh. He winked at me – a bit too slowly for my liking, and with both eyes – and said he escaped by pretending to be crazy (the ward only locked up sane people).
“As we have a few hours before we’re outside of Luna’s gravity well, let me ask you something”.
I wondered when the drink service would begin.
“Which technologies will affect silver consumption the most?”
I explained, “In 2000, photovoltaic (civilians call them solar panels) demand breached 1 million ounces (Moz) for the first time. By 2020, solar panel end-use rose to 92 Moz; 10% of total demand”.
He was nodding enthusiastically – spasmodics I mistook for interest – so I continued: “The consensus analyst forecast is that solar panel demand will average 100 Moz per year between 2021–25, this compares to 82 Moz on average between 2015–19. But there’s quite a bit of variation among the analysts. Looking at nine different estimates for 2021–25 the range is an incredible 100 Moz per year, between 5–15% of total demand”.
Silver Bug was moved very deeply by the uncertainty and let out a respectful whistle. “That’s some range, that 100 million”, he observed.
“It’s the best there is”, I responded, though by then the drink service began and I can’t say whether I was thinking of the estimates or the Havana Club Máximo Extra, likely the latter.
I informed CASE (the rectangle-shaped Rubik’s ‘cube’ steward-bot that serviced these star jumps) to return every seven minutes with another glass.
“Did I ever tell you about the 1960 Western Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Seattle?”
“This is only the second time I’ve ever talked to you”, I said.
He continued as if he didn’t hear. “A businessman and his wife were sitting in the coach class seat. He claimed later that he saw – Oh Deus it’s all coming together now! – he saw a gremlin fooling with the engine”.
I uttered what I hoped was a non-committal “Mm, hm” and made a mental note to have CASE accelerate the schedule to five minutes.
“No one believed him but when the plane landed the engine had been tampered with”.
He looked at me expectantly. I calculated that we had about six hours before we got past Luna and were herded to the acceleration tanks. Cursing the Earth-Luna system’s relativistic speed limit silently under my breath, I decided to ignore his gremlin tale:
“With respect to vehicles, silver has been increasingly used by the automotive sector as the number of gizmos within each car increases: night vision, automatic breaking, lane departure warning, tire pressure monitoring, regenerative braking, entertainment systems, etc.”.
His eyes drooped. I pressed my advantage.
“The industry crossed the 1 Moz mark in 1995 and stayed near that total for the next six years. The pace picked up ever since and in 2020, 50 Moz were used. Forecasts put the annual average at 68 Moz for 2021¬–25, a 25% increase over the 2015–19 average”.
He got a second wind and interjected, “I don’t think it was the gremlin but the Buto Ijo. And I think I saw one during boarding”. At this he turned his head from me and looked out the porthole. But before I could find a wrench, candlestick, lead pipe, rope, knife, gun or any useful implement in my seat pockets CASE returned, beeping and burping with self-satisfaction at the precision of his 420-second round trip.
Suddenly Silver Bug began a bananas-crazy bombardment: “I have several books on this. If you take a look at the Javanese writings on this, the Buto Ijo is mentioned on a number of different levels”.
I retaliated with rationality: “The greener the car, the more silver it’ll use. An internal combustion engine car uses 15 to 28 grams of silver, while a hybrid uses 18 to 34 and a fully electric vehicle has 25 to 50”.
He shelled me with silly: “Now, I was on a flight as you now – heading to my house – I saw the Buto Ijo on the wing of my plane and I said, ‘Deus! Will you look at that? A gremlin’”.
I countered with a fusillade of facts: “Nuclear power! Let me note that 1 to 2 Moz are used each year in rod cluster control assemblies to control the rate of fission”.
His pew-pew-pew: “Well, what do you think these bastards did? They tied me to a gurney. So, you see, they don’t want you to have the information”.
My rat-a-tat-tat: “Overall, analysts expect 17% of silver to be tied to those three segments. Should households, businesses and governments decide to pursue greener policies than the consensus view, those values would rise further”.
He said no more, an armistice apparently.
The computer decelerated the obsidian-hull starship from 25g to 1; the acceleration tanks were being drained.
Silver Bug was introducing himself to me, “My name is Qarn. I listen many a night because I don’t sleep but an hour. And again, my mother has had me in for electroshock countless times. Let me ask you something. Is there enough future mine supply to keep with silver’s dual role as a store of wealth and an industrial metal?”
Like coming out of surgery, I couldn’t recognize my rear-sector from a tea kettle, port from starboard or a Taurun from a Terran. How was he so cogent?! Maybe if you’re crazy there aren’t as many connections that need to be re-established.
“No. To answer to your question. No, there is not enough future mine supply to keep pace with silver demand. At least that’s the consensus outlook for 2021–25. Can I ask you a question? You say you’ve had electroshock therapy – why?” Maybe I could sign up, I thought.
“Well, they say there’s something wrong – I only sleep an hour a night. I never sleep. I don’t need it. I only sleep because they make me. And that’s only if I take a handful of silver supplements. That’s why I need to know. I need to man”.
“Total supply, which includes secondary sources like scrap and recycling, is forecast to average 1,062 Moz over the next five years.”
“What about demand?”
I left unsaid that the supplement demand was precisely zero as there was no such thing as a silver vitamin. “Fundamental demand – which represents industrial, photographic, decorative and investment demand…”.
“Investment demand?! Like coins and bars? Wild! But I think… and the government has been in my house because they have a radio transmitter in my pillow and one of my two cats”.
“Nuh, huh”. I saw CASE ambling our way. I held up one finger, flashed my hand signalling “five” and drew a series of repeating circles with my finger that I hoped translated into “infinity”. It seemed to understand and headed for the bar.
Now it was my turn be unhinged: “Yes, investment demand is fundamental to silver! What are you, crazy?”
Knowingly he leaned forward and asked, “Why else would a cat talk to me?”
Alarmed at what my ears just detected I panickily calculated the distance between the tank bay and the airlock. But before I got too far, I saw CASE rolling my way with silver tray and tumbler. Pacified, I turned back to Qarn and said, “Fundamental demand is expected to average 1,044 Moz per year. So, we do have a 18 Moz surplus each year on average.”
“What is not included in that demand figure?”
“Speculative demand”, I answered. “By that I mean exchange traded funds, commodity exchanges and dealer inventories. If you add all those up, I anticipate an average deficit of 107 Moz every year through 2025”.
By now we had reached our seats and Qarn was looking out the port side porthole. I wondered, why didn’t they call them starboard holes on the starboard side? We were approaching our final destination in the Constellation of Monoceros.
“What do you see?” I asked.
“Yeah man, it’s real different”.
“What are the possibilities it has intelligent life?”
“I think it has high degree of intelligent life. It is a Sector 4, Grade 3 planet, which means it likely has some form of rudimentary cabbage. Tell me more about silver supply and demand”.
He didn’t miss a beat between mad and sane. I went on as if nothing was amiss, “And that is before we take a second look at coin and bar demand. The analysts believe the next five years will stagnate at the 2015–19 total! This could make sense in a stable socioeconomic, geopolitical order. But that’s not the post-2008 world we inhabit. I expect investment demand will surge, not stagnate!”
I really got worked up with that last bit. Now Qarn was staring at me as if I had suggested the planet had a ‘form of coleslaw’ and that it was emitting ‘strong potato readings’.
“You’re getting outer space on this thing”, he said with a look of concern that I judged to be well north of mild.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute!” I protested at the implication that I was the cuckoo bird. “A perfect silver storm is a government-driven Green New Deal within the context of an inflationary socioeconomic reaction to the global depression in place since 2008. That’s eminently reasonable! And it’s not even in the analyst outlook!! Which already anticipates a deficit!!!”
Qarn had raised his left hand, snapping his fingers energetically at CASE in a sort of wavy motion while nodding his head in my direction. CASE turned into the galley and took out what looked like a gurney with some industrial-strength straps. He began locomoting my way.
Illustrations by David Parkins, courtesy of the author
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