What’s Going On With Gold and Silver?

When I woke up Monday afternoon (I work nights) I made my usual rounds on the internet, which includes Yahoo finance.  I saw an article about gold taking a beating and clicked on it and couldn’t believe what I what I read – $23 silver and gold in the $1300’s.   I never thought I’d see those prices again.    I did buy a bit of both metals last week when the prices started to decline, should’ve waited a little bit.    I went to Kitco to see the day’s chart and saw that there was already a pop-up ad asking basically asking if I just lost my ass on gold – I’m not sure what they were selling, but I was impressed with their speed, whatever it was.   I also saw a few articles talking about how the party was over with gold.     It’s kind of a bizarre feeling to wake up with the exact same things you had the day before and then to have it suddenly be worth a lot less.  :::shrugs:::

Either way, I’m really not too worried about this.   I’m looking at this as a great opportunity to acquire more.   I’ll admit I’m a little dismayed with the mining/streaming stocks that I have and starting to get antsy about the silver ETF’s that I bought last fall.      I still believe in the fundamentals of both metals.

I listened in on a conference call/webinar thing tonight talking about the precious metals market and from what I’m hearing is that many dealers of physical metals are seeing a lot more people buying and virtually no one looking to sell back their metals.  If the market was really melting down, people would be falling all over themselves to get out.     Also with most dealers Silver Eagles are about four weeks behind on orders and Silver Maples about two weeks behind.   Right now the premiums over spot are a little higher than usual, which reflects the high demand for physical metals.    Again, if the market was really falling apart, dealers would be trying to get rid of them too.    I’ve also heard reports of coin shops refusing to sell bullion now at anywhere near spot, thinking that they’ll be able to get a lot more in a short period of time.  Makes sense.    I also noticed that one small online bullion dealer conveniently picked Monday to update their server, even after just announcing that they were able to fill orders again.

Also from what I understand, virtually no physical gold (or silver) moved in this – it was all shuffled around on paper and the gold remains sitting in a London warehouse, where it’s been for quite some time.

There’s some real reasons out there for the precious metals prices to go down a little bit.   The Indian government was talking about placing a tax on gold (India is the largest consumer of gold), the US Dollar is doing good right now, the markets are inching up and unemployment is down,  Chinese growth is a little slower than expected and there’s a possibility that Cyprus will have to sell off her gold in order to pay off part of the debt.   Sure that will put some more gold on the market, but the big thing there is that if that’s the deal that they strike with Cyprus, it will probably be the deal they’ll strike with Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal too when their day comes.

So I think instead of fretting over this I’m going to take this wonderful opportunity to build my position on precious metals at a price I believe to be a bargain.    Maybe this is a good time to splurge a little bit on the boutique rounds instead of the government issued ones or the low-price wooden nickel ones.   I was looking at some Andrew Jackson ones earlier today…



Platinum and Palladium: The Other Precious Metals

Gold and silver usually get the spotlight in the world of precious metals so sometimes platinum and palladium get looked over.   I’ll admit that when I gave a presentation on PM’s in February I spent no less than an hour talking about gold and silver and probably less than five minutes talking about platinum and palladium so I’m guilty of it too.    Still, platinum and palladium have been outperforming silver and gold and that trend could continue.

In the speech I gave I basically said that from an investment perspective platinum and palladium had some of the advantages of gold and silver, a few distinct disadvantages and different dynamics.

Like gold and silver, both platinum and palladium are good ways to have a portable tangible asset with a lot of value.   Today (April 3, 2013) platinum is about $1560 and palladium is about $760.

Just like gold and silver, the demand is worldwide and they’re traded on the commodities exchange.   Someone always needs these metals, as they’re extremely important in the industrial world.   A small percentage of platinum is used for jewelry and investment and everything else is industrial demand.   This differs from gold and silver, where about 10% of gold is used for industrial purposes and silver demand is almost evenly distributed.    Theoretically speaking, if worldwide industrial demand goes up, so will these metals.  If it goes down, they could go down.

One of the downsides to these metals that I gave was that they’re not as liquid or as widely recognized as gold and silver.  You can always sell it back to the bullion dealer you purchased it from, but it might be hard to get a fair price in your local area.   Many people keep gold and silver for the potential to barter if the economic system collapses – most people couldn’t tell you the current spot price of gold and silver, but everyone knows that gold and silver are valuable and at least that gold is more valuable than silver.    There isn’t that same level of cultural familiarity with platinum and palladium.   Besides, if the S really HTF I’m sure the demand for both of these metals would be way down.     I can’t see either one being very good for barter.

The supply side of platinum and palladium is promising for investors because both are rare and mining is prone to disruptions.   South Africa is the leading producer of platinum and second largest producer of palladium.   Russia is the largest producer of palladium and second of platinum.   There’s some of both metals mined in the US and Canada, but for all practical purposes Russia and South Africa rule the roost.   Both countries are known for corruption and inefficiency and the primary palladium mines in Siberia are only accessible for a few months out of the year.    There was a labor dispute in South Africa that shook the platinum market earlier this year.

According to some reports, South Africa and Russia are planning on forming a cartel similar to OPEC around these metals.    I purchased a couple ounces of palladium a couple years ago when the price dropped due to the Russian government dumping some of their stockpile on the market in order to pay some bills.  I guess it’s more responsible than just taking on more debt, like some other governments….

Oh, platinum is so rare that all of the platinum ever mined could fit into a room about the size of the average living room.   All of the gold ever mined would fit into a cube about the size of the infield of a baseball diamond.   So if you have a little bit of platinum, you really have something special.     It takes about 10 tons of platinum ore to get one ounce of pure platinum.   It takes about 3 tons for gold, to put it into perspective.

There are also people who make a living salvaging palladium from catalytic converters (the primary use of palladium – there’s a couple grams in each one).   When the price of palladium shot up a few years ago, there were even reports of theft, kind of like when copper goes up wire theft goes up.

Ok, I’ve kind of been shooting from the hip on this one so I’ll sum up with I think that platinum and palladium are worth looking into for investment purposes and diversifying your physical assets but maybe not the best idea if you’re stacking PM’s solely under the premise that all hell will break loose someday.

The Incredible Malleability of Gold


Two weeks ago I gave a speech to a local preparedness group about gold and silver.   I mentioned some of the properties of these metals that set them apart from other metals and make them more than just shiny pieces of metal.   Someone recorded the speech, I’ll probably post it when it surfaces.  It’s about an hour and a half, so it’s a long one.

Among one of gold’s properties is the fact that it’s so malleable, meaning it can be hammered out in to very thin sheets.  One ounce can be hammered out by a skilled goldsmith to about one square meter.    The dome of the Iowa State Capitol is covered in gold leaf and I was surprised to find out that there’s only about 100 troy ounces of gold up there (a little less than 7 pounds).   Sure, that’s a lot of gold but that’s also a lot of surface to cover.   A brick of gold small enough to hold in your hand can cover that.    Pretty amazing.

There’s Nothing I Love More Than Some Good Siege Literature

I’ve been off work for a couple weeks and have had a lot of time for reading.    Among the things I read was Anna Reid’s Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-44.  I briefly mentioned the siege of Leningrad in Wolverines: Reflections on Red Dawn and had it in my mind, so I figured it would make some great Christmas-time reading.   I’m not going to review the book, but I think it’s a good idea for those of us into the world of preparedness to read and study accounts of times in human history where the shit really hit the fan for people instead of just fictional accounts.  I can’t think of much else more horrific in modern history than the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad besides Nanking.  I’m sure there are a ton of other smaller and equally brutal events that have been forgotten amongst the widespread destruction of the past century.  

After reading it I increased my food storage and was thankful that I have the option to do that, being born in this place during these times.  Let me list a few things off hand that the citizens of Leningrad ate to survive during the siege:

– Humans.  They ate corpses and there were even some cases of people killed for a bit of “long pig”.

–  Dogs.   There was one story of a family with a much-loved pet dog who had to kill it and eat it.  They gave the intestines to a friend for his help slaughtering it.

– Cats.  

– Horses. 

– Rats.

– Pidgeons.

–  Joiner’s glue.  It’s made from animal parts.

– The paste from book bindings.  It’s flour and water.

–  Sawdust bread.   Certain types of sawdust was added to bread to stretch it.

–  Crumbs scraped from cracks in kitchen tables.

–  Cattle feed, like cakes of flax seed.

–  Wheatberries recovered from a sunken ship that were moldy.

–  The paste from behind wallpaper.   Flour and water.

–   Leather

–   The dirt from underneath a confectionary that burned down.   Apparently there was charred sugar in the dirt.   People actually paid for it too.

–  Flour scraped off the walls of a bakery and from underneath the floorboards. 

The book also mentioned the citizens foraging for dandelions and nettles in any available space.  

Cash became worthless, but gold and silver still had value.   It’s kind of funny how when you get into precious metals you really notice these things when you read historical accounts.    Unfortunately for the folks who had gold and silver in Leningrad, the price of food and some crucial bribes skyrocketed beyond the cost of the metals and luxury items.  I’m a big fan of precious metals but from a preparedness standpoint I think you’re a lot better off trying to acquire the things you think you’ll exchange them for in a barter economy now than counting on having all kinds of doors open for you because you’ve got a pocketful of silver dimes.   I also think it’s a good idea to try to be able to be the guy (or gal) with some kind of valuble skill/product/service on the receiving end of the silver than just a consumer with silver to exchange.   Money, even silver, runs out if you don’t have a flow of it coming in.    I think the best way to think of precious metals from a preparedness standpoint is for all of those little things you’re forgetting.  

At any rate, I think it’s worth digging into the past to find out how people coped with times of scarcity and calamity.   I’m pretty sure that the contemporary writers of dystopian fiction get a lot of their ideas from these kinds of historical events.   


Investing in Silver 101: How To Begin Investing in Silver

1 Ounce Silver Bars

1 Ounce Johnson-Mathey Silver Bars


One ounce Johnson Matthey silver bars

I get people asking me about precious metals every now and then – I’ve noticed a lot more commercials advertising precious metals investing, shysters opening up “We Buy Gold!” shops and a lot of people concerned with the way the economy seems to be going.

There are some similarities between the worlds of silver and gold and some differences, so some of the things I’ll say about silver apply for gold.    Honestly, I know a lot more about silver than I do about gold and I believe it’s more accessible to the average person.    I will go into why I prefer silver later on…



I don’t have a bunch of dates and historical facts for you, but I can tell you that silver has been used as a medium of exchange (i.e. “money”) for thousands of years, at least as far back as ancient Greece and eventually throughout the world.     I can also tell you why silver has historically been used as money.   The value of the silver money was based on the intrinsic worth of the silver.   The intrinsic value of the silver came from the metal’s practical and aesthetic qualities as well as it’s rarity – you can’t just go pick silver off trees.  People wanted silver to do a lot of cool stuff with, but there was only so much silver out there so basically the high demand and relatively low supply made a little bit worth something, so you can carry a respectable amount of wealth in a small piece of silver.  Silver is also very durable and doesn’t degrade over the course of your lifetime (ok, no nit-picking on this, chemists).    The portability plus the durability made it a perfect choice for coinage and trade.

As the civilizations began to trade with each other, silver (and other metals) facilitated this international trade.   When a trader dealt with a merchant from a different civilization, they could agree on pricing because both parties knew what metals were worth.   It didn’t really matter which despot was stamped on the coins, the silver content was the important thing.  Trade in precious metals carried on until approximately the middle part of the 20th Century (the US abandoned silver currency in 1965) – someone in Great Britain trading with someone in the Netherlands could understand the price in Dutch guilder based on the silver content of the guilder compared to the silver in the pound.


Currently silver is not officially traded as a currency, although some governments do issue silver coins which are technically currency.   Approximately half of the world’s silver demand comes from industrial uses. Silver has the highest thermal conductivity and electric conductivity out of all the metals, making it very useful for many electronic and high-tech items.  Your cellphone probably has a tiny bit of silver in it.  So does your computer.    Photography film used to make up about a third of the annual silver usage, but that has been shrinking due to people not using film often anymore and opting for digital.   On the other hand, the increase in digital cameras leads to an increase in demand for silver in the way of electronics.

Another portion of the silver supply is used for things like jewelry and silverware.   Just like our distant ancestors, we still find the metal nice to make pretty things with.

Another portion of the supply is used for medical and dental applications, such as fillings, surgical tools, bandages and even some medicines.   Some of this is beyond me, so I’ll just post the Wiki link here if you want to read more on the medical/dental uses of silver.   It is kind of neat to hear about the different properties it has.

What’s left is used for investment purposes.


People invest in silver largely as a hedge against inflation and see it as a way to preserve wealth (think of it as freezing your money as it’s worth today).  Governments can print money, but they can’t magically come up with the silver to correspond to the money supply.   As everything else goes up, silver will theoretically go up in proportion to the money supply.  In reality, silver isn’t inherently any more special than any other commodity, but the fact that it’s durable, easily transferable and portable make it a better option than other commodities.   For example, today (8/21/12) about three ounces of silver is worth one barrel of oil.   One ounce of silver is worth about three bushels of corn or wheat (give or take a little).     Which would you rather keep around?  You can take those couple ounces of silver, put them somewhere and they’re not going to take up hardly any space and they won’t require any special care or consideration.

Some people invest in silver because they believe it has the potential for a true upside – not just reflecting inflation, but an increase in demand and/or a decrease in supply.   Many of the uses of silver previously mentioned lead to small amounts of silver being basically thrown away each year, eating away at the world’s total supply of silver.   Some suggest that “peak silver” is rapidly approaching, a situation where there’s severe shortages of silver in the world which will make the price of existing silver go up.

Here’s a video on the concept of peak silver:

Many people keep silver around because of lack of faith in currencies.  In the event of a currency collapse, the silver would be used for barter or exchange for new currency. Governments rise and fall and paper currencies go with them.   I’d rather have a tiny silver coin from the Ottoman Empire right now than a slip of paper with any promise from the Ottoman Sultan right now.      If you think governments are permanent fixtures, check this video out and think of all the currencies that have probably come and gone in Europe:



The “spot price” of silver can be found by checking commodity markets.   I prefer Kitko to track prices.   This price is more or less the absolute base price of silver throughout the world.     It isn’t the price you should expect to pay, because this price reflects how much the largest buyers are paying for the metal in it’s raw state.   It passes through a few middlemen who put energy into it and take a profit along the way.   Normally you’ll pay a couple bucks over spot per ounce at the low end.

The price comes from basic supply and demand.   When industrial or investment demand is up, the price goes up.   When it’s down, the price goes down.    It’s also important to note that the prices reflect currency rates as well.   Right now the US dollar is relatively strong, making silver a little cheaper than it would be if the dollar was weak.

Silver is also very energy-intensive to mine and the cost reflects the effort put into it.   If energy prices go up and silver becomes harder to extract (i.e. we’ve already gotten all the easy stuff and have to dig a little deeper), that will reflect in the price.      Here’s a video that shows some of the effort that goes into mining silver:

Ok, now on the good parts –


Some people invest in silver by buying exchange traded funds (ETFs) or other financial instruments.   There are good reasons to do this and good reasons not to, but I’ll focus on physical metals here.

Many people purchase 1 ounce bullion coins or bars.   These can be government minted or privately minted.   Examples of government minted ones are the US silver eagles, the Canadian maple leaf, the Chinese Panda and the Australian Koala.  These are usually given some sort of currency denomination that doesn’t come close to reflecting the value of the silver, i.e. the US eagle is worth one dollar and the price of silver is around $28 today.   Privately minted coins have no face value and can sometimes be had for a lower mark-up above spot than the government minted ones.   This largely depends on the numismatic value (basically the appearance) of the coin.     I’ll show an example here – the coin on the left is really sweet, the one in the middle is ok and the one on the right is really lame.   They’re all worth the same in silver, but sometimes people are willing to pay a little more for a better coin.

Various Silver Rounds

The USS Constitution with “Honest Value Never Fails”, an Indian head and Santa Claus with “Merry Christmas 2001”.    No offense to Santa, but that coin is pretty lame. 

Canadian Silver Maple Leaf

Canadian Maple LeafsI put up an article recommending these here.

US Silver Eagles


The US silver Eagle.

As far as where to buy your metals, there are many dealers out there.   Some good, some bad, some somewhere in between.  It doesn’t hurt to shop around a bit.   I have my preferences and if anyone asks I’ll gladly share, but I’m not going to post “buy from <dealer>!” here.

Another option is pre-1965 silver US coins also known as “junk silver’   Typically these coins have a 90% silver content, but that’s not always the case.  It’s good to check a site like Coinflation to find out the silver content of coins by year and denomination.    Usually you’ll end up paying somewhere near the spot price for one ounce of silver for $1 in junk silver.    These coins are a good idea for buying in very small increments and to keep around as potential barter currency.   Right now you can buy a single silver dime for somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.   If you don’t have much to spare, that’s a good way to start building up silver.    You can find these at your local coin shop or eBay.

Junk Silver

Various pre-65 US silver coins or “junk silver”.  

Some people also purchase large 100 ounce bars of silver.   You get a discount on the markup for these because there’s less input into them and you’re buying in bulk but on the downside they’re not easily divisible.   If you want to sell some silver, you pretty much have to sell the whole thing unless you’re going to find a way to cut it.


Hey, people have been exchange silver for a lot longer than you or I have been on this earth.   Who’s to say it can’t happen again?   One thing that is cool about silver is that you can get small denominations (i.e. silver dimes) to make small transactions.   In a post about copper for barter, I said that my gut feeling is that the copper in one AOCS round would probably be worth a few tomatoes, a squash or something like that in an agrarian barter economy.   I’d say that a silver dime would probably have the value of a basket of grain, a small bag of apples, a good sized mug of beer or maybe a dozen eggs in a barter economy.   My gut feeling on an ounce of silver is that it would be worth some kind of handcraft, like a good basket, some kind of pottery, a decent knife or a few chickens.   Remember, currencies are not permanent arrangements.   It’s just something to consider

As a slight aside on the subject of acquiring silver for a barter currency later down the road, I think it makes more sense to try to acquire whatever it is you feel you’ll be barter for later now instead of during a period of calamity.   It’s much easier to walk into Menard’s and buy some tools with cash today than it probably will be to track specific items down and pay with silver should things go south in the economy.


Both have their place in the investment world, but I feel that silver is a little more accessible to the average person than gold.   You can get an ounce of silver for about $30 today and an ounce of gold for a little over $1600.   There are denominations smaller than an ounce for gold (i.e. French 20 franc coins) but it’s more realistic that someone is going to want to pick up a few ounces of silver over a tiny sliver of gold.   Silver is also a little easier to break down into small denominations.   If I had 100 ounces of silver and wanted to sell 20 of them to pay for something, that’s easier than if I had two ounces of gold and wanted to sell/barter half an ounce.

Gold is also almost entirely an investment metal.   Silver is as much of an industrial metal as it is an investment, so the supply/demand factors are different.


Sorry to give a vague answer, but whatever you’re comfortable with.   At the extreme, some will say that you should have everything in precious metals and some will say steer clear entirely.   Many people suggest somewhere between 5-25% of your net worth in metals.     Instead of worrying about percentages and amounts, I guess I’d just suggest learning a little bit about the financial system, precious metals and how the market works (hey, you’re doing all of that now!) and start making a plan to put something into silver, whether or not it’s a dime here or there or several hundred ounces at once.   Maybe make a point to pick up a few ounces with whatever is left at the end of the month – you know your finances better than I do.


Silver is probably the most user-friendly investment you can make and there’s really no minimum entrance costs.   You can start today by picking up a single silver dime for a few bucks on eBay.    You don’t have to fill out any paperwork, you don’t have to set up an account, you don’t have to screw around with the guy at Edward Jones or the HR lady that deals with your 401k and you also don’t have to notify the government.   It’s very easy to do.   It’s not the end-all-be-all of the financial world, but it’s something worth considering.   Also, there’s something about being able to hold something with true, lasting intrinsic value in your hand that your grandparents and distant ancestors would have  recognized as something with value.

The Case For Investing With Canadian Silver Maple Coins


Recently I picked up a few Canadian Silver Maples on a whim.    Nice looking coins.   I don’t have much for or against Queen Elizabeth but I guess her “entrance” into the Olympics opening ceremony was endearing.   The maple leaf on the back looks cool though.   The simplicity of the design and the silver makes me think of ice and crisp weather, which Canada is known for.

Many silver investors prefer government minted coins, particularly US silver eagles.   There tends to be a slightly higher markup on silver eagles than some privately minted bullion.   Eagles can be put in an IRA (I don’t know why you would want to do that, but yeah, they can) and one of the other selling points of US eagles is that they have a face value of one US dollar so as long as the dollar exists and let’s say a large meteor made of pure silver makes a soft landing on Earth and brings the market done to nothing, the silver eagle will still maintain some value.  Many people say the same thing with pre-64 US silver coins (aka “junk silver”) for the same reason – they’ll always have their face value at the very least.

I didn’t realize it until I held the Maple Leaf in my hand, but the coin has a face value of five Canadian dollars.  The markup on Maples is sometimes slightly lower than US Eagles, which only offer a one US dollar face value.   That means that if you bought a silver maple today for approximately $30, your investment would be backed by five Canadian dollars, which is worth about five US dollars today.   That’s 18% backed up by currency, which isn’t a bad little “safety net” should the silver market completely fall through.     The Canadian dollar is a currency that many investors like as well, being as their economy is heavily based on commodities.

Most of us that invest in silver do so because we believe that it’s a hedge against inflation, government mismanagement of economies and/or believe that there’s a genuine upside potential due to supply and demand.   I don’t believe that the silver market will drop to a point where you would rather have the face value of silver coins, but going with Canadian Maples provides a notable amount of “insurance” in the way of face value over Eagles for a similar, if not lower price.    It’s just something to consider when making silver purchases…

See also Investing in Silver 101


Oikos Update 5/29/12

It seems like the lettuces in my garden have been winding down, but still coming in. My spinach is almost entirely bolted, my remaining mustard greens will go shortly and a couple overwintered collard greens have bolted. C’est la vie. I’m enjoying fresh salads from the garden while I can. I’ve been plucking a few beets, radishes, turnips, parsnips and carrots here and there and eating greens (swiss and rainbow chard, kale, mustards, collards, beets and turnip) just about every day, which is nice. Within the past week I’ve harvest a ton of snow peas and I’ll probably start freezing them, just like I did last year. Actually, I still have some frozen snow peas from last year. My fennel is looking good, there’s a few volunteer tomato plants from compost starting up that I’ll let take their course, the tomatillos are looking vibrant and we put in a few bell pepper and eggplants within the past week or so. The strawberries have been coming in as well and I think we’ve probably picked about a pint or two from our whiskey barrel planters. The new mini-orchard is starting to take off as well.

On the herbal front, I’m getting some things sown from seed coming up. My dill is going nuts and I have all the oregano, chives and catnip I need. Basil, peppermint, chocolate mint, cilantro and parsley are at the point where I can use them, but I have to be a little careful. Everything is looking better after this weekend’s rain and sun.

We had the first official CSA delivery last week, which was nice and a good supplement to what we’ve been getting from our garden. Got some radishes, spinach (which was nice with ours just having bolted) and lettuce.

I just finished Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis (Portfolio) by James Rickard yesterday, which I’ll probably review shortly. Just started on A Gift to My Children: A Father’s Lessons for Life and Investing by Jim Rogers, which will be a quick (and insightful!) read.

Silver has been down lately, in the neighborhood of $27-$28. I’m thinking about buying, but I have a feeling that turmoil in Europe could cause the dollar to go up a little more and send the price of metals down a little more. Based on where the prices have been over the past couple years, this isn’t a bad time to buy. We’ll see what happens. If I buy now or at $24 (just speculating…), I still think it’s a good mid/long term play regardless.

I bought a few shares of Herbalife (HLF) earlier this month when the price tanked based purely on a few comments by David Einhorn and the prospect of him making a few more comments about that business. So far the price has been level at about what I paid for it, but nothing has actually changed with the business so I’m anticipating that it will climb up somewhere back in the neighborhood of $75 in the near future. That hasn’t panned out yet, so we’ll see how that foray into swing trading works out for me. Fortunately I don’t have a ton of money on the line that this will make or break me, but enough that I don’t want to lose it. I might just have to hold on to it a little longer than I wanted to.

Murray now looks like a big dog:  

He’s earned the nickname “Honey Badger” or “Badgerius” (saw the Improvised Shakespeare Company recently who used this name for a character) due to his behavior and appearance.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg

Also, yesterday was Memorial Day.  I try to be thankful every day that I’m on this earth and make the best of it in honor of my comrades in arms that never made it back home.