Silver's Smoking Guns, Part 1: Mining Paradox

NEW YORK ( Bullion Bulls Canada) -- When a reader and fellow silver-mining investor recently expressed his frustrations on our forum regarding absurd valuations, I decided it was once again time to try to shed some light (and sanity?) on the subject.

When I began investing in these silver miners many years ago, one of the first anomalies to which I was introduced was that the vast majority of silver produced in the world (more than 75% at that time) was produced as a "byproduct" of other mining. While I immediately recognized that this was an extremely important factoid, at that time I lacked the level of understanding necessary to glean its true significance.

Since that time, the ramifications of these incredible parameters in silver mining are now apparent to me. Sadly, however, this important analytical point does not seem to be as apparent to others. While I've covered this subject matter once already in a prior commentary, the lack of general awareness in this area clearly merits repetition of this analysis.

The basic parameters for the mining of metals on our planet are simple and clear. With nearly every commercially produced metal on the planet, the vast majority of that metal is produced via "primary" mining -- mines which "primarily" produce that particular metal. The reason for this should be obvious.

At the large scale at which the modern, global economy operates, the need develops to secure large supplies of these metals. For purposes of both efficiency and a secure supply-chain, it is natural/preferable to seek to develop "copper mines" to meet copper demand, "zinc mines" to meet zinc demand, etc.

We would thus expect all of these commercially/industrially consumed metals to have production models where the vast majority of supply came from primary mining, with the metal which was produced as a "byproduct" (through the primary mining of other metals) being merely incremental to supply.

Indeed, with any/every metal for which there is this commercial/industrial demand, there are only two market paradigms where we would not expect the majority of (new) supply to come from primary mining, but rather as a byproduct of other mining:

a) Metals with a low level of demand, and/or only limited or specialized uses;

b) Metals that are found in either such small quantities or trace amounts that "primary" mining is not commercially feasible.

It is abundantly obvious that silver doesn't come close to meeting either of those two conditions. With respect to its level of demand and its multitude of commercial/industrial applications, silver is in a class by itself.

With its aesthetic appeal (it's the brightest of all metals) and malleability, it is (along with gold) the world's best and oldest form of real "money". On that basis alone, there is significant investor demand for silver. Meanwhile, with new patents for silver-based industrial applications outnumbering those of any other metal, industrial demand for silver is large, strong and growing.

The demand parameters are unequivocal: The majority of silver mined in the world should come from primary silver mining. This leaves the issue of supply. Is silver so rare in quantity and/or purity that primary silver mining is not feasible? Absolutely not.

Again, the evidence is totally unequivocal, and can be demonstrated either from a historical perspective or via current, empirical data. Historically, the world used to be full of silver mines. From the 16th century until the latter half of the 20th century, the vast majority of the world's silver was always supplied through primary silver mining.

What happened toward the end of the 20th century? Nothing much ... other than the price of silver being driven down to a 600-year low (in real dollars) -- and held there. At this point, the realities of silver mining become just simple arithmetic.

If the price of copper were driven down (and held down) at a 600-year low, there would soon be few, if any, primary copper mines in the world, and the vast majority of copper would have to come as a byproduct of other mining. If the price of nickel were driven down to a 600-year low, the world's nickel mines would quickly be driven out of business. And so on.