Physical Demand Wreaks Havoc on Futures Exchanges

In recent days, retail demand for physical bullion has tapered only slightly from the frenetic pace of the prior two weeks.

Many of Money Metals’ major retail competitors appear to be facing big challenges obtaining enough inventory of coins, bars, and rounds and fulfilling orders timely. To be fair to the struggling dealers, buyers have vastly outnumbered the sellers for weeks, despite the big jump in premiums.

By virtue of having its own in-house fulfillment operation combined with strong capitalization and sourcing, Money Metals seems to be well positioned in terms of securing stock and fulfilling orders quickly – and we have not been refusing orders from smaller customers while all other major U.S. dealers have been.

Most dealers have jacked up premiums to astronomical levels, but Money Metals has been able to hold the line on further premium increases on many popular items – such as gold and silver American Eagles, silver rounds and bars, and 90% (junk) silver coins.

Moreover, the availability of Money Metals’ new Vault Silver and Vault Gold storage offering – which is built upon a hoard of large commercial gold and silver bars – has taken some of the pressure off our other inventories and helped customers avoid the delivery delays and high premiums currently associated with many products, particularly silver.

The supply situation in fabricated products still has the potential to get worse before it gets better. The Royal Canadian Mint and major Swiss refiners including PAMP remain closed.  The U.S. Mint has even paused production briefly this week.  And there are also some signs of serious stress in the market for larger gold and silver bars.

But supply troubles may not be limited to retail bullion products. There is an increase in the number of investors standing for delivery of large bars in the futures markets. Under normal circumstances, very few contract holders ever take delivery. All of a sudden, physical supply and demand is starting to matter in the paper markets.

Bullion banks which sold paper gold to investors are now being asked to deliver. However, they have a problem.

They are having to draw on 400 oz gold bars vaulted in London. Their contracts specify 100 oz bars so the larger bars have to be melted. And the Swiss refiners who can convert those bars have closed shop temporarily. Air cargo is also more difficult – disrupted by COVID-19.

The COMEX, as always, is working very hard to help the bullion banks out of their pickle. The exchange massively hiked margin requirements, which contributed to the recent waterfall decline in futures prices for both metals.

Officials there also changed the delivery rules last week, providing banks with the option to deliver 400 oz and kilo sized gold bars – in London.

However, lower spot prices may now be contributing to the problem that the COMEX and bullion banks hoped to solve.

More people are asking for delivery, and physical bars now carry a significant premium.

Not everyone appears to be buying the story about the supply problems being temporary – the result of a lack of refining capacity and transport. Neither exchange officials, nor the bullion bankers, have explained why meeting delivery commitments in the U.S. is so dependent upon gold vaulted in London.

There is a COMEX vault network in the U.S. with bars which are supposed to be available to meet delivery requirements. So why isn’t that happening?

It appears that while bars may exist in the U.S., too few are categorized as “registered” and therefore can’t be released for purposes of making delivery. Prices may have to go higher before the owners are willing to part with actual physical bars.

 

Clint Siegner is a Director at Money Metals Exchange, the national precious metals company named 2015 “Dealer of the Year” in the United States by an independent global ratings group. A graduate of Linfield College in Oregon, Siegner puts his experience in business management along with his passion for personal liberty, limited government, and honest money into the development of Money Metals’ brand and reach. This includes writing extensively on the bullion markets and their intersection with policy and world affairs.

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