All the gold and silver roads now leading to China
With the opening of silver futures trading in Shanghai, China could rapidly become a major player in silver trading given its position as now almost certainly being the world's largest silver consumer.
This week the Shanghai Futures Exchange will start trading silver futures from Thursday. In a commentary on this the newspaper, The Australian, comments that nowadays all the gold and silver roads are leading to China, and speculation that the next few years could see the Chinese dominating the global silver market much as they appear to be doing with the global gold market.
Indeed a big inflow of silver into China - a country which has a long association with the metal having had a silver related currency standard up until the 1930s - is felt by some to be likely to end some of the metal's price volatility and perhaps end what some see as excessive manipulation of the market through COMEX.
But silver does need to throw off its reputation for volatility - the 'devil's metal' as some traders refer to it because of this, and initially silver trading in China could add to this until perhaps it finds some kind of stability. But commentators referred to by The Australian also say that there is indeed a particular penchant for silver investment in China because retail investors are attracted by the much lower price than that of gold and because of the relatively recent association of the country's currency with the metal.
There is little doubt that China's take-up of gold - both at the retail and institutional levels - and probably by official entities too - has been perhaps the most significant driver of the yellow metal's price over the past two or three years and it is felt that the impact on the silver market could be similar. Given that silver is a much smaller market than gold this could prove to be quite a substantial impact and could see those holding big silver short positions on COMEX, liquidating these just in case there is a big price kicker ahead as a result.
China is already the world's third biggest silver producer after Peru and Mexico, as well as the world's largest gold miner. It is also one of the world's largest consumers of industrial silver - probably the largest - and investment in silver bullion and jewellery has also been running at a very high level. Certainly China is a net importer of silver these days - both for investment and fabrication. Investment demand has been growing id double digits percentage-wise, while in industrial usage many of today's key uses of the metal are in areas where China is beginning to dominate world supply notably in electronic products, solar panel manufacture etc.
What might detract from an immediate demand surge from China, though, is the belief that the country's industrialists may have as much as 15 months supply in stockpiles. But China has a remarkable facility to surprise the global markets in its strength of demand for commodities and silver may prove to be no exception.