Activity in the largest exchange traded fund for silver has spiked the past two weeks along with volatility as traders look for alternate ways to play the precious metal following a series of futures margin hikes.
Daily trading volume in the $13 billion iShares Silver Trust (NYSEArca: SLV) has been running nearly ten times the average seen over the past six to nine months. Last Thursday, nearly 300 million shares of the silver ETF traded, a record.
Silver was crushed last week in a massive sell-off after a frothy rally. Higher margin requirements in silver futures and a bounce in the dollar fueled the selling.
“Investors migrate to ETFs during times of volatility,” said Leland Clemons, head of the iShares U.S. capital markets group at BlackRock, in a telephone interview.
He said during times of distress, investors like that ETFs are exchanged traded, transparent and liquid.
“Futures and ETFs are often traded as complimentary vehicles,” Clemons said. “If one vehicle, or several that are traded together to facilitate liquidity, are altered, then iShares Silver Trust might see a bit more activity relative to normal periods.”
The fund rose fractionally in early trading Tuesday. Other ETFs for silver include ETFS Physical Silver (NYSEArca: SIVR) and PowerShares DB Silver (NYSEArca: DBS).
The silver ETFs suffered losses of more than 20% last week as the metal’s price dropped sharply. Last week, iShares Silver Trust saw redemptions of about $1 billion, following outflows of roughly $500 million the week before.
The ETF’s bullion holdings have also fallen, although it still holds more than 10,000 metric tons of silver, or about 340 million ounces.
“The ETF holds only silver bullion,” said Clemonds at iShares. “Silver bullion moves in or out [of the ETF]based on creations or redemptions. It literally holds bars of silver, no futures.”
Some metals ETFs hold physical bullion, while others may invest in futures contracts or mining shares.
iShares Silver Trust
Full disclosure: Tom Lydon’s clients own SLV.
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