Silver prices are trading at $17.05 an ounce in Tuesday morning trading, according to the New York spot silver price. Meanwhile, January, 2017 silver prices are trading to $17 during the same trading session.
According to LongForecast.com, the long-term outlook for silver is bad, at best, with silver prices hovering between $15 and $17 during the next six months.
But there is one development worth keeping an eye on, and it's taking place in India right now.
There, country economic policy makers are cracking down on its gold supply, even though the yellow metal is held in 78% of Indian households.
"The Indian government has been trying to reduce its citizen's demand for imported gold through a number of means over the last few years," states Fergal O'Connor, a senior lecturer in finance at the University of York, in a recent research posted in The Conversation. "This is part of a wider crackdown on currencies used in the black market, that included the withdrawal and replacement of its two largest denomination bank notes in early November."
That could boost silver prices on a global basis, if the Indian government opts to use silver to replace gold, at least to some extent.
"Following the recent import tax hikes for gold, 2015 saw Indian silver imports grow to almost 8,000 tons, 14% up on the previous 2014 record," O'Connor adds. "At the same time, demand for gold jewelry, which accounts for 75% of all Indian gold demand, is down 30% for the 12 months to the end of September 2016, according to the World Gold Council. This points to a possible shift back to silver as a more prominent investment in India."
There are more economic issues at play in India that could impact silver prices.
"Basically, India's policies deterring private gold ownership are intended to reduce the country's steep trade deficit," says Joseph Yaffe, co-owner of Gainesville Coins in Gainesville, Fla. Because so much gold is imported into the country each year with very little of the metal re-exported, the nearly insatiable demand for gold in India constantly places pressure on the balance of trade, Yaffe states. "To combat the widening deficit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been aggressive in instituting gold import duties, gold monetization schemes (GMS), and other measures meant to suppress domestic gold ownership," he says. "Yet it's often overlooked that India is also perennially among the world's leading importers of silver."
Because so much gold is imported into the country each year with very little of the metal re-exported, the nearly insatiable demand for gold in India constantly places pressure on the balance of trade, Yaffe states. "To combat the widening deficit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been aggressive in instituting gold import duties, gold monetization schemes (GMS), and other measures meant to suppress domestic gold ownership," he says. "Yet it's often overlooked that India is also perennially among the world's leading importers of silver."
Yaffe says that India has already made a huge investment over the next five years in solar panels, in a nationwide "clean energy" campaign. "Silver is a key component of photovoltaic cells, so industrial demand for silver from India should provide some lift to prices going forward," he says. "Frankly, silver prices are very volatile in the short-term. Looking ahead three-to-five years, India provides a longer-term picture of strong silver demand. Not only might Indians buy more silver as an alternative to gold (due to all of Modi's restrictions), but the industrial demand from solar panel orders will also support higher silver prices."
In the short term, silver has been profitable all year, says Gabriel Pincus, president and portfolio manager of GA Pincus Funds. Still, there may be better metals-based investment opportunities on the market right now.
"Silver is up more than 21% year-to-date," he says. "Between January and August of this year, Silver rallied from a low of $13.67 to a high of $20.67. But the price has now fallen considerably from this recent peak."
Pincus also notes that Indian citizens hold an estimated $1 trillion worth of gold. "At today's price of $1,157/ounce, this equates to 27,000 tons of gold," he says. "While this seems like a lot, if this gold were replaced with silver, it would be 1.8 million tons of silver. This ratio of gold to silver, which currently stands at approximately 68.5, is one of the primary reasons gold is held by most people instead of silver."
"Silver's low price requires investors to hold large quantities, which is not cost-effective, and which holds down the demand for the metal," he adds. "Additionally, silver jewelry is less desirable, because one would have to wear five pounds of silver to have a $1,000 piece of jewelry."
For those reasons, Pincus doesn't believe India's economic policy will lead to an increased price of silver. "That said, I do believe India's new policy could increase the price of other precious metals - platinum and palladium," he notes. Pincus says he is bullish on ETFS Physical Platinum Shares (PPLT) and ETFS Physical Palladium Shares (PALL) . "Platinum and Palladium are currently priced at $937 and $735 per ounce respectively," he says. "Individuals would be more likely to trade their gold for these less known precious metals, causing an increases in global demand, and thus increases in their respective prices."
Whether it's platinum, gold, or silver that holds a commodities-minded investor's attention, the Indian gold situation bears watching, as some smart people think silver will benefit from India's gold power play, but probably later than sooner.