Silver a great business to be in for the next 50 years at least
Hecla Mining CEO, Phil Baker, says it's hard to envision silver mines being able to keep up with demand while the use of silver in various forms of technology is growing significantly.
Posted: Tuesday , 22 May 2012
GRONINGEN (MINEWEB) -
There has been a lot of talk in recent months about both the monetary role of precious metals and investment demand for silver.
For Hecla Mining President and CEO, Phil Baker, while the investment side of the market is important, it is the technological markets for the metal that are more exciting.
Speaking on Mineweb's Metals Weekly podcast, Baker said the silver market today can best be compared to where it was 100 years ago, when photographic demand was just beginning to grow.
"Hecla has been a silver mining company for 120 years - it was a great business to be in until the early 1980s and it was a terrible business to be in for the next 20 years. We're now back in a phase where it will be a great business to be in for the next 50 years at least."
According to Baker, the reasons for this prediction are two-fold. The first is that silver's unique properties mean that its uses in various forms of technology are growing significantly.
"Roughly half of all of the silver that's demanded today, goes into one of these technological uses. It goes back into the Second World War and then since the start of 2000 - the start of this century we had all sorts of new uses that have really outstripped that decline that we've seen since this photographic demand has exited," he said.
Silver is used in everything from band aids to iPads because of its conductivity, its malleability, its reflectivity and its ability as a biocide. And, as Baker points out, the existing uses aren't going away and "everyday there seem to be something new that comes out that uses silver."
The second reason why Baker is so bullish on the industrial side of the market is that, the markets for these technological products are set to grow significantly in the next few years.
For Baker, the trend towards ever-increasing urbanisation means growing markets for technological products.
"A good example of that is South Korea. About 20 years ago they were consuming about 0.05 ounces of silver per capita. Today they consume about 0.5 ounces - that increase we think will be the same increase that you'll see in China, and you'll see that on top of all of these new applications that we have for silver."
And, while demand is set to grow, Baker is less convinced that supply will be able to keep up, at least in the short term.
"We've had a depression for silver for the last 20 years, until about 2005 and as a result of that, there has not been the exploration for silver. It's really only been since 2005 that you've started to see that. So what new production that you see coming in for silver for the most part, comes in as a bi-product for some other metal. And if you look at the growth rate for gold and if you look at the growth rate for other metals, lead and zinc for example, there's not many new projects that are on the horizon that are going to make a material difference over the course of the next 10 years."
But, he says, "The problem that the silver market has is this underlying industrial demand or technological demand is growing at such a fast rate, that it's hard to envision the mines being able to keep up with the supply. So what's going to have to happen is that above-ground stocks are going to have to move from investment use, and be put into industrial use over time."
Having said that, Baker is also quick to point out that it is unlikely to be one way traffic.
"Investment demand will come and will go, and when it goes, you'll see silver prices being very, very volatile on the downside. I think over the long haul it's going to be very volatile on the upside but you'll have these periods of time with lower silver prices."
iPad Version: Picture: Silver bars are pictured at the Austrian Gold and Silver Separating Plant 'Oegussa' in Vienna: Lisi Niesner / Reuters