Ted Butler Commentary June 9, 2009
Bad News, Good News
(This essay was written by silver analyst Theodore Butler, an independent consultant. Sound Of cannons LLC does not necessarily endorse these views, which may or may not prove to be correct.)
The most recent Commitment of Traders Report (COT) was almost a replay of the prior week’s report. Very little net new speculative buying/dealer selling in silver, massive net speculative buying/dealer selling in gold. As of the close of business June 2, both COMEX gold and silver futures are at the largest total commercial net short position levels since last summer. While the silver concentrated short position is still at world record levels, the concentrated gold short position is more than notable.
According to the COT and the Bank Participation Report issued Friday, the level of concentration on the short side of gold increased dramatically. In fact, the Bank Participation Report indicated that three or fewer US banks held the largest concentrated net short position in COMEX gold futures on record, at over 123,000 contracts (12.3 million oz). Let me repeat that, three or fewer US banks held the largest short position in history. Let me tell you why that’s bad news.
For the umpteenth time, concentration and manipulation go hand in hand. You can’t have manipulation without a concentration. Period. Concentration is also dangerous to everyone; the markets, the regulators, innocent participants, even to the US banks so heavily short. That was the problem with AIG in the credit default swap debacle that almost sunk the financial system. They had too big of a concentrated position. This COMEX gold and silver short position is not on the same scale as AIG’s CDS position, but it is way too big and concentrated. It shouldn’t be allowed, especially by US banks, considering what havoc they have already wrought.
To those who insist that all this concentrated shorting by a very small number of US banks is just some type of aggregation of accounts doing legitimately hedging, let me explain why that is nonsense. The gold concentrated short position increased to a record level in just one month. At the exact same time, the published gold miner hedge position is at its lowest level in a decade. You can’t have a record large concentrated short position being a legitimate hedge when the hedge position is at a record low.
Let’s be honest. This record short position by two or three US banks was put on as an offset to speculative buying by technical hedge funds on the COMEX. It was no hedge, just a plain vanilla speculative short by the 2 or 3 US banks. They sold short because they were convinced they could eventually get the tech fund longs to liquidate at lower price levels and make a profit in the end. Normally, that might not be a problem, just some big speculative bets being made by big money institutions. But these aren’t normal times or normal conditions. The short selling by 2 or 3 big US banks has become so concentrated that it has crossed the manipulation line by a wide margin. Who died and left them the kings of price control?
Transparency is one thing, honesty is something else entirely. It’s laudable that the CFTC is so transparent in publishing the data that I reference. But what good is publishing the data if they are not going to be honest about what the data signifies? It is time for the CFTC to speak out on this issue. They have been investigating this issue of concentration for more than ten months now, their third silver investigation in five years. If they find nothing wrong in silver this time, unfortunately as the odds favor, there will be no additional silver investigations - until the silver market blows up. Then there will be a final silver investigation, trying to uncover why they didn’t see it coming.
That’s why it’s important to bring your concerns to the new chairman of the CFTC, Gary Gensler. Please give him the benefit of any doubt you might have about him fixing this problem. I have studied his public testimony and his background. He looks like the real deal - smart and aware of the important issues, like manipulation and speculative position limits. I just hope he can see that speculative position limits must apply to the big banks as well when they are, in fact, speculating. He is not responsible for the current manipulation in silver and gold and must be given a reasonable amount of time to resolve it. I’m sure he knows, better than anyone, that his time to resolve the problem is not unlimited. At some point fairly soon, if he doesn’t address this issue, it will become his problem.
There was some other interesting data in the recently released CFTC reports over the past three weeks. I was struck by the disparity between the increase in both the total net commercial short position and the concentrated short position of the largest traders in gold, and the lack of increase in both categories in silver. I get the feeling the big boys (JPMorgan) are very reluctant to expand their short position in silver, but have no such qualms in gold. At least, that’s what the data suggest to me. What does this mean?
Again speculating, my sense is that this is no accident. It has become increasingly obvious that the large concentrated short position in silver is manipulative and must be addressed. I can’t know if this has been initiated by JPMorgan or the CFTC or the exchange, but that’s not the important issue. Regardless of who or what may be prompting a move away from more concentrated short selling in silver, the results could be profound. If true, it would signify no less than the end of the manipulation itself.
That’s not to suggest that the big manipulative shorts are about to roll over and play dead. They are still powerful and dangerous and their short positions are large.. If the script plays out as usual, they will try to rig a sell-off and get the tech funds to puke up their long positions. Only this time, the big shorts seem to be relying more on gold price pressure to drag silver lower, rather than to load up on silver short positions to the extent they have in the past. I still don’t know if they will succeed or something may come along and blow up in their faces, but I’m pretty sure what they want to do.
It will be bad news, in one sense, if the big shorts succeed in manipulating gold and silver prices lower, forcing leveraged longs from the market. It’s like bullies in a school yard getting away with beating up the little kids. But it will also be good news if they clean out the tech funds, as it will present us with a low risk entry point, maybe the last one for a while.