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"Houston, We Have A Problem" - 85% Of Silver In London Already Held By ETFs

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Feb 09, 2021 - 10:40

Submitted by Ronan Manly, BullionStar.com

With the ongoing #SilverSqueeze and huge associated dollar inflows into silver-backed Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), it is now time to look at which of these ETFs store their silver in the LBMA vaults in London, England, and to calculate how much physical silver these combined funds store in those London vaults.

These LBMA London vaults are run by seven vault operators which comprise three bullion banks JP Morgan, HSBC and ICBC Standard Bank – and four security firms – Brinks, Malca-Amit, Loomis and G4S.

While many eyes have been fixated on the mammoth iShares Silver Trust (SLV), that is only part of the picture, and there are 13 additional silver-backed ETFs that store their silver in London that people may not be aware of.

By calculating how much silver the ETFs hold in London , we can determine how much available physical silver remains in the London LBMA vaults that is not already held by these ETFs. This then gives an estimate of how much room these ETFs have before they hit a wall of not being able to source any more silver in the London vaults without having to import it or ship it in. And the answer, as you will see below, is not that much room at all.   

Because out of the 1.08 billion ounces of silver (33,609 tonnes) that the LBMA claims is stored in the London vaults (as per latest LBMA data to end of December 2020), a whooping 83.3% or 28,007 tonnes (900.42 million ozs) is already accounted for by these ETFs. This is based on ETF holdings as of end of day 5 February 2021.

Add in another 22.22 million ozs (691.3 tonnes) of silver held by Bullion Vault (BV) and Gold Money (GM) in the same London vaults, and there are a massive 28,698 tonnes (or 922.65 million ozs) of silver accounted for in the combined ETFs and in the BV/GM holdings. That’s 85.4% of all the silver that the LBMA claims is in the London vaults.

ETFs / ETCs / Transparent holdings store 28,698 tonnes of Silver in LBMA London vaults, over 85% of all the silver in LBMA London. Sources – Provider websites

This leaves only 4,911 tonnes of silver from the LBMA total of 33,609 tonnes that is not already accounted for. That’s a mere 14.6% of total London vaulted silver stocks. The criticality of the situation was even more acute based on end of day data from 3 February 2021, when based on the same calculation approach, there was only 4,366.7 tonnes of silver in the LBMA vaults (13% of the total) that were not accounted for by silver ETF and other transparent silver holdings. On that day, a full 87% of all the silver in London was held the ETFs and other transparent holdings.

Reported Silver Holdings

Importantly, these holdings of Exchange Traded Product (ETP) silver inventories are part of reported silver bullion stocks. As the Silver Institute 2019 annual report (written by Refinitiv) explains:

“Identifiable bullion stocks can be separated into two categories: reported and unreported bullion stocks.

Reported stocks consist of industry, exchange, ETP and part of the government stock category.

Unreported stocks … consist mainly of government and custodian vaulted stocks.”

And notably, says the Silver Institute report, the unreported category is almost exclusively made up of custodian vaulted stocks of silver. According to Refinitiv:

Terminal market inventory finds its way into Europe, driven by refiners off-loading their metal in times when investment demand is weak. The European and U.S. bullion banks in collaboration with major storage providers remain the main facilitators.

Here, “terminal markets’ refers to commodity markets that are trading centres as opposed to production centres. When custodian vaulted stocks rise, says Refinitiv, it is “partly a reflection of weak investment demand more than anything else”. The converse is also true. When investment demand is strong, the unreported custodian vaulted stocks fall.

And where have we seen investment demand being strong right now? In the physical market of course, all the way from retail to wholesale to mints to refineries. So now is not a time when there will be “refiners off-loading their metal” into vaults because of weak investment demand. In fact the opposite is to be expected. 

In short, strong investment demand leads to depleted unreported custodian vaulted stocks. And Exchange Traded Products have at all times to compete with the rest of the market for the pool of available silver in the London vaults of the storage providers.

Allocated Silver held by Wealth Sector

And we haven’t even factored in yet the allocated silver holdings that the wealth sector (investment institutions, family offices and High Net Worth individuals) hold in the LBMA London vaults, silver holdings which are also part of the unreported custodian vaulted stocks category.

And that, according to people I’ve talked to in the market, could be anywhere from 30 million and 50 million ozs (933 tonnes to 1,555 tonnes). Which would leave only between 3,300 tonnes and 3,900 tonnes of silver in the London LBMA vaults which is not held by ETFs and the wealth sector. And that is not a lot of silver for 14 ETFs to compete to secure.   

To put this into perspective, over the 3 trading days from Friday 29 January – Tuesday 02 February, the iShares Silver Trust (SLV) just by itself claims to have added 3415 tonnes of silver, of which 1,070 tonnes was on the Friday 29 January, 579 tonnes on Monday 01 February, and another 1765 tonnes on Tuesday 02 February. This 3415 tonnes equates to 14% of annual mine supply and 10% of all the silver that the LBMA claims is in London vaults.

Another 3-4 days of similar magnitude dollar inflows just into SLV would require SLV to source another 3000-4000 plus tonnes of silver, which is mathematically impossible based on the amount of silver said to be in the London vaults. This could cause the SLV to literally seize up and cause all the other silver ETFs with London storage to seize up too. This is assuming no new silver arriving into the London market in quantity at this time. Which is not an unrealistic assumption to make given that there is currently a global demand spike for physical silver. In other words, “terminal market” physical silver inventory would not be “finding its way into Europe” since global investment demand is strong, not weak.

Painting the Tape in Paper Silver

Which is why it now looks like the bullion banks torpedoed the COMEX / LBMA price of silver on Monday 1 February and Tuesday 2 February so as to paint the tape and attempt to break investor sentiment and prevent further inflows into the silver ETFs. But if that was the plan, the bullion banks didn’t succeed, since total ETF holdings only ebbed marginally over the rest of the week following the bullion bank price onslaught.

Its also important to remember that the LBMA data on silver vault stocks in London covers all forms of silver bars and silver coins held in the LBMA vaults, not just the large Good Delivery silver bars http://www.lbma.org.uk/gdl-silver-bar-specifications.

As the LBMA explains about its silver vault data:

“All physical forms of metal are included: large wholesale bars, coin, kilo bars and small bars.”

However, ETFs are limited by their prospectuses to only purchasing Good Delivery silver bars (which normally weigh 1000 oz each). Therefore, since the LBMA data covers all forms of silver bars and silver coins in the London vaults, the LBMA data of 33,609 tonnes total stock in London may be overstating how much of that is Good Delivery silver bars. Which means that the ETFs have even less leeway in sourcing silver inventory than would at first appear.

Note also that the Bank of England does not hold silver, because central banks do not hold silver at the Bank of England. In fact, central banks rarely if ever hold silver as a reserve asset. So unlike gold, bullion banks cannot borrow silver from central banks to augment supply and firefight demand.

Don’t forget also that professional investors and institutions hold huge quantities of unallocated ‘paper’ silver positions in the London LBMA market, in the form of claims against LBMA bullion banks for silver which is not readily available. This unallocated silver is really ‘silver credit’ or fractionally-backed / unbacked silver positions which have been created by the bullion banks to absorb demand that would otherwise have gone into physical.

As former LBMA CEO Stewart Murray euphemistically said in 2011: “various investors hold very substantial amounts unallocated gold and silver in the London vaults”. But what Murray failed to explain is that unallocated silver does not exist in a vault because it is not physical. It is a merely a paper claim on a bullion bank for a quantity of silver that the bank is obliged to find somewhere if the claimant happened to move to execute the claim.

The Squeeze is On

In short, the scarcity of available silver in the London LBMA vaults is far more advanced than most people think. And with 14 ETFs, and not just SLV, competing for available silver, the bullion banks and storage providers are now in a “Houston, we have a problem” mode. A problem which you will see from a quick review of these 14 silver-backed ETFs and Exchange Traded Products (ETPs) which claim they are fully physically backed with silver stored in LBMA vaults in London. First we will review all the other ETFs, and finally end with the big one SLV. The review below uses a similar framework to the 2017 BullionStar article “How many Silver Bars are in the LBMA Vaults in London?”, and uses some helpful updates last week from Daniel March

Alphabet Soup – London Silver ETFs

PHAG and PHPM – WisdomTree

PHAG / PHSP is the WisdomTree Physical Silver fund. It has two ticker codes as it trades on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) in US dollars (PHAG LN) and pounds sterling (PHSP LN). It’s the same product with two lines, so in this analysis is easier to refer to as PHAG.

PHAG was formerly known as ETFS Physical Silver until WisdomTree acquired the European business of ETF Securities in 2018. The silver custodian of PHAG is HSBC bank plc, London.

PHPM / PHPP is the WisdomTree Physical Precious Metals fund. PHPM /PHPP was formerly known as ETFS Physical PM Basket until the WisdomTree acquisition of ETF Securities European business. The silver custodian of PHAG is also HSBC bank plc, London. The WisdomTree Physical Precious Metals product also trades on the LSE in two currencies US dollars (PHPM LN) and pounds sterling (PHPP LN), but is easier to refer to here as PHPM.

As of end of day 5 February, WisdomTree claims the combined silver holdings of PHAG and PMPM total 99,460,478.5 ozs (3,093.64 tonnes) in the form of 102,667 silver bars. The bar list can be seen in XLS format here, ( a link to a zip file opens the latest xls).  

The  PHAg and PHPM silver is claimed to be split between HSBC’s London vault and Malca-Amit’s London vault, with 43,379,829.9 (1,349.29 tonnes) in the HSBC vault in the form of 44,620 silver bars, and 56,080,648.6 ozs (1,744.35 tonnes) in the Malca-Amit vault in the form of 58,047 silver bars.

Oddly, the WisdomTree website product pages say that PHAG holds 95,579,115 troy oz of silver, and PHPM holds 1,296,137 troy oz of silver, which is a combined total of 96,875,252 ozs, which is 2,585,226.5 ozs less than the combined total reported.

SSLV – Invesco

SSLV is the Invesco Physical Silver ETC. SSLV was formerly operated by ETF provider Source until Invesco acquired Source in 2017.

The custodian of SSLV is JPMorgan Chase Bank. The silver owned by SSLV is claimed to be in JP Morgan’s vault in London.

As of end of day 5 February 2021, SSLV claimed to hold 7,820,611.8 troy ozs of silver (243.25 tonnes) in the ‘JPM London V (VLT)’ vault in London, in the form of 8061 silver bars. The 5 February bar list is at the link here.

33,609 tonnes of silver in London LBMA vaults – But ETFs now hold more than 28,000 of this total. Chart source – www.GoldChartsRUs.com updated with new ETF data

PMAG and PMPM – ETF Securities Australia

PMAG is the ETFS Physical Silver product. It is operated by ETF Securities Australia, and also known as ETPMAG. The custodian of the PMAG silver is JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, London.

PMPM is the ETFS Physical Precious Metal Basket. Its also operated by ETF Securities Australia, and also known as ETPMPM (Basket). The custodian of the PMPM silver is also JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, London.

PMAG and PMPM report this silver holdings in a combined report under ETFS Metal Securities Australia Limited. As of 4 February 2021, the latest dated report that has been uploaded to the ETFS Australia website, the combined silver holdings in London of PMAG and PMPM was 8,634,676.1 ozs (268.57 tonnes) in the form of 8,909 silver bars, all claimed to be held in the JP Morgan vault in London. The link to the bar list in XLS format is here.

SIVR and GLTR – Aberdeen Standard

SIVR is the Aberdeen Standard Physical Silver Shares ETF. GLTR is the Aberdeen Standard Physical Precious Metals Basket Shares ETF.

SIVR and GLTR were formerly operated by ETF Securities until Aberdeen Standard Investments acquired the US business of ETF Securities in 2018. The custodian of SIVR and the silver of GLTR is JP Morgan Chase Morgan Chase NA, London.

As of end of day 5 February 2021, SIVR claimed to hold 36,657,877.7 ozs of silver (1,140.21 tonnes) in the form of 37,537 silver bars. Currently, none of the silver of SIVR is held in JP Morgan’s London vault. It’s all claimed to be held in the London vaults of Brinks, Malca-Amit and Loomis. Specifically the SIVR bar list shows all the silver as being held in ‘Brinks Premier Park’, ‘Loomis Int (Viamat)’, and ‘Malca-Amit’.

This storage arrangement is however, very strange, since on 14 August 2020, the last physical audit of SIVR showed that all its silver was held in the JP Morgan vault in London, specifically at that time “32,712 London Good Delivery Silver Bars with a weight of 31,827,933.800 troy ounces”. That’s 989.98 tonnes of silver. See audit report here.

Then why is all of the SIVR silver now in the vaults of sub-custodians and none of the SIVR silver is in the vault of the custodian JP Morgan? Why did 989.98 tonnes of SLRV silver move out of the SIVR vault since 14 August 2020 and is now claimed to be in the vaults of 3 sub-custodians, Brinks, Malca-Amit and Loomis?

As of end of day 5 February 2021, GLTR claimed to hold 9,306,054.1 ozs of silver (289.46 tonnes) in the form of 9,548 silver bars. Currently, this silver is claimed to be stored in the JP Morgan London vault (about 92%) and a Malca-Amit vault (about 8%). Yet there is no recent physical audit report for the GLTR silver on the Aberdeen Standard website.

In total between them, SIVR and GLTR claim to hold 1,429.67 tonnes of silver in the LBMA London vaults.

SSLN – iShares

SSLN is the iShares Physical Silver ETC. The custodian of SSLN is JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, London Branch. Not to be confused with the much larger iShares Silver Trust (SLV). See below for SLV.

As of end of day 5 February 2021, SSLN claimed to hold 24,679,579.5 ozs of silver (767.64 tonnes) in 2 vaults in London, roughly split between the JP Morgan vault London (2/3) and the Malca Amit’s London vault (1/3). The exact figures being ‘JPM V’ vault with 16,947,579 ozs (17,387 silver bars), and Malca-Amit vault with 7,732,000.5 ozs (7,975 silver bars).

The SSLN bar list, which updates the same PDF file each day, can be seen at the link here.

XTrackers – Deutsche Asset Management – now called DWS

Deutsche Bank Asset Management (now called DWS) operates 5 DWS XTrackers which hold physical silver. These are known as the XTracker Physical Silver ETCs. A list of XTracker precious meals ETCs can be seen in the list here.

The custodian of the silver for all of these XTracker ETCs is JP Morgan Chase Bank NA, and the silver is claimed to be in the JP Morgan vault in London.

In total, as of end of day 5 February 2021, these 5 XTrackers hold 1,839.45 tonnes of silver in London. This figure is correct and is based on data directly from the DWS website and from a Deutsche daily Excel sheet of funds and holdings. There are no silver bar lists or audit reports on the DWS website, nor anywhere else. 

The silver holdings of each of these XTrackers as of 5 February was as follows:

Xtrackers Physical Silver ETC : 2,334,322.7 ozs (72.61 tonnes)

Xtrackers Physical Silver ETC (EUR): This is the big one: 43,963,590.6 ozs (1,367.45 tonnes). This fund is also known by the ticker XAD6

Xtrackers Physical Silver EUR Hedged ETC: 9,091,742.5 ozs (282.79 tonnes)

Xtrackers IE Physical Silver ETC Securities: 3,363,569.56 ozs (104.62 tonnes)

Xtrackers IE Physical Silver EUR Hedged ETC Securities: 385,151.26 ozs (11.98 tonnes)

Ironically, the silver XTrackers can be complicated to keep ‘track’ of, as they are domiciled in a number of jurisdictions (UK and Ireland), trade on various exchanges (LSE and Xetra), trade in various currencies (USD and EUR), and have various metal entitlements per security depending on the particular ETC.  

The Xtrackers IE Physical Silver ETC Securities may look like 2 separate XTrackers, but it’s not, because both have the same ISIN, and they just trade as XSLR on LSE, and XSLR on Xetra. So to reiterate, there are 5 silver XTrackers, not 6 as some people might initially think.

Excluding SLV, the other silver-backed ETFs which store their silver in London claim to hold a combined 7,642.23 tonnes of silver in London LBMA vaults, which is 27.2% of all ETF silver in London, 22.7% of all the silver said to be in the London LBMA vaults, and 37.5% of the silver claimed to be in SLV. So any discussion of the #SilverSqueeze must take into account these other 13 ETCs from a total of 6 providers. 

Apart from SLV, the biggest silver ETFs which hold their silver in London are PHAG from Wisdomtree with 2974 tonnes, XAD6 XTracker from Deutsche with 1367.45 tonnes, and SIVR from Aberdeen with 1,140.21 tonnes. So next time someone mentions SLV, tell them about PHAG, SIVR, XAD6, and the other ETFs / ETCs.

Other Transparent Silver Holdings

As mentioned above, there are some other silver holdings in the LBMA London vaults which are transparent since they are publicly reported on. These are the silver holdings of customers of Bullion Vault (an LBMA member) and Gold Money. As of 5 February, the reported silver holdings of Bullion Vault in the London vaults of Loomis (mostly in Feltham and a small amount in Shepperton) was 478,474.795 kgs, which is 15,383,322 ozs or 478.5 tonnes. The link to Bullion Vault silver holdings in London is here

SImilarly, on 5 February, the reported silver holdings of Gold Money in the London LBMA vaults (Loomis) was 212,765.5 kgs, which is 6,840,570 ozs or 212.8 tonnes. The link to Gold Money silver holdings in London is here.

Together the silver holdings of Bullion Vault and Gold Money in London LBMA vaults total 691.3 tonnes. 

SLV – iShares Silver Trust

Now, if you have digested all of that, let’s look at SLV.

As of end of day 5 February 2021, SLV claims to hold a massive 654,726,423 ozs of silver (20,364.74 tonnes).

Recently, the SLV bar list has been 1 day behind the stated SLV totals. And so the SLV bar list as of end of day Friday 5 February shows SLV’s claimed holdings as of end of day Thursday 4 February, which were a claimed 659,278,427.9 ozs of silver (20,505.85 tonnes) in the form of 675,425 silver bars.

SLV’s bar list is mammoth and runs to 10561 pages, with a filesize of 27 MBs. Luckily, the first page contains all the vault data. Based on the 5 February bar list (which refers to 4 February silver holdings), SLV claims to hold silver over an incredible 7 vaults, 6 of which are in London.

Three of these vaults are operated by Brinks, two vaults are operated by JP Morgan (the SLV custodian), one vault operated by Malca-Amit, and one vault operated by Loomis.

The three Brinks vaults are Brinks London C, Brinks Premier Park (London), and Brinks Unit 7 in Radius Park (London).

Brinks (Premier Park) is located in an industrial estate called Premier Park, off Abbey Road in Park Royal, north-east London, and is actually down the road from the G4S vault which is at 291 Abbey Road, Park Royal. Brinks unit 7 is, as the name suggests in Unit 7 of the industrial park near Hatton Cross tube station, beside Heathrow Airport. Brinks London C could also possibly be in Radius Park, as Brinks occupies a number units in Radius Park, such as units 1 and 3. But Brinks London C could be elsewhere. Note, SLV used to store some of its silver in Brinks London A, back about 7 – 10 years ago.

The JP Morgan London vault is referred to by SLV as JPM London V (which is the same vault as other ETFs use). This may be the JP Morgan vault under John Carpenter St/ Carmelite St in the City of London . Note, SLV used to store some of its silver in a vault called JPM London A back in the day.

The JPM New York vault is under 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza in Manhattan. The Malca Amit vault is referred to as Malca Amit UK (MA) London. This Malca vault is located in Arena Parkway, Hounslow in London, near Heathrow Airport.

The Loomis vault is referred to as Loomis International (UK) Ltd (VIAMAT) London, in Feltham, London, near Heathrow Airport.

Looking at the SLV bar list for 4 February, and the silver holdings distribution by vault, a few things jump out.

  • Only 27% of the claimed SLV silver is located in the JP Morgan vaults (the custodian vaults). A full 73% of SLV silver is held in the vaults of custodians.
  • Brinks vaults now claim to hold 48% of SLV silver, the Malca Amit vault holds 22%, and Loomis holds 3%.
  • Between 29 January and 5 February, 2854 tonnes of silver was claimed (by JP Morgan) to have been added to SLV.  Exactly 50% of this silver was claimed to appear in the Brinks Premier Park vault, 18% in the Brinks Radius Park unit 7 vault, and 22% in the Loomis vault, with only 6% from the JP Morgan vault, and only 3% from the Malca-Amit vault
  • Between the same dates there was no change in the SLV silver claimed to be held in Brinks vault C, nor in JP Morgan vault New York (see below)
  • As recently as 30 January, there were only 5 vaults listed on the SLV bar list. On that day, Brinks Radius Park was not listed nor was the Loomis vault.
  •  The Loomis vault only appeared on the SLV bar list on 3 February. The Brinks Radius Park unit 7 vault only appeared on the SLV bar list on 2 February.
  • JP Morgan, the SLV custodian, has had to heavily tap Brinks (specifically Brinks Premier Park vault and Brinks Radius Park vault) and Loomis’ vault for the bulk of the claimed silver inflows  
  • The Brinks Premier Park vault now claims to hold 31% of all SLV silver, followed by 14% for the Brinks London C vault, and 3% for the Brinks Radius Park Unit 7 vault.
  • Of the 27% of SLV’s claimed silver located in JP Morgan vaults, this is distributed as 11% in JP Morgan London vault and 16% in JP Morgan New York vault.

A Note about SLV and COMEX

Since the big dollar inflows into SLV beginning on 29 January, the silver inventory claimed to be in the JP Morgan New York vault, i.e. 103,176,253 ozs (3,209.21 tonnes) in the form of 102,837 silver bars, has not changed at all.

Furthermore, all silver bars claimed to be held by SLV are in the form of Good Delivery silver bars (usually about 1000 oz in weight). All the SLV silver claimed to be in the JP Morgan New York vault will be in the form of 1000 oz bars.

The flagship silver futures contract on COMEX is the SI 5000 oz contract which is deliverable as 5 * 1000 oz silver bars in COMEX approved vaults in New York.

Currently, as of end of day 5 February, the COMEX daily silver inventory report shows the JP Morgan New York vault as containing 152,946,614.74 ozs (4757.28 tonnes) of Eligible silver. Exactly 103,176,253 ozs (3,209.21 tonnes) of this silver belongs to SLV. Therefore, on the COMEX silver vault report under JP Morgan’s Eligible category, there is only 49,770,361.74 ozs (1548 tonnes) which does not belong to SLV. Something that many people probably never thought of before. 

So any calculation of available silver on COMEX has to take this SLV silver into account.

Conclusion

If the above 14 ETFs see continued investment inflows, they will all have to compete for the available silver in London which is not already held within these ETFs. And that available silver is at an historic low, some 3000 tonnes or so. A few more days of inflows like the ones seen over 29 January to 2 February would be a major emergency for these ETF providers, particularly the iShares SLV. Because there is just not that much physical silver left in the vaults of JP Morgan, Brinks, Malca-Amit, Loomis and HSBC, which is not already reported as being in these ETFs. 

And lets not forget all the unallocated silver positions which are outstanding which are claims against the bullion banks for silver which they have not got. Anyone with deep enough pockets could now cause a serious run on the remaining available silver stored in London that is not currently attributed to the above ETFs. 

This article was originally published on the BullionStar.com website under the same title “Houston, we have a Problem”: 85% of Silver in London already held by ETFs.

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