‘Mike Buetow Humor’

When the reader titles their email “Subject: Mike Buetow humor,” you know I’m opening that one first.

Reader TE writes:

Just going through the July 2016 issue when I came across two (well, three really) very interesting announcements.

On page 14 is a small blurb in the first column: “Canadian mining firm First Majestic Silver says a surge in smartphones and tablets is creating a silver shortage that could send prices up 775%.” Now go over to page 15, first column and you will see not one, but two different articles, one on smartphone sales slowing by 2.6% and the second that tablet shipments will decline by 9.6 % this year.

These opposing announcements seem to be right up your alley regarding the irony of our industry, and even perhaps our times. Both can’t be true, so now I am wondering if either is. It’s a big lol from my corner.

Well played, TE: I loved the note, and your observation absolutely appeals to my sense of irony!

I can possibly account for why both could be true. The silver market, like any commodity or precious metal index, changes daily and can be highly speculative. If you look at the Metals Index chart on pg. 15, the Handy and Harman Silver index jumped 15% between Apr. 4 and May 9 this year, then fell 6% by the end of May.

Second, smartphone growth appears to be declining in terms of its rate, but still rising overall. So growth this year will be 3% instead of 11%. I wouldn’t call that a “surge,” but who knows what goes through the minds of those good persons at First Majestic Silver. Also, overall handheld phones shipments are actually growing — probably in the high single digits this year. And it’s also possible that silver speculators are guessing there will be a spike in the second half because of new models that will overcome the lackluster first half sales.

As for the tablets, well, I don’t have a good rationale for that one. We have two in my house and both are used as expensive coasters.

All that said, I highly doubt the silver price will “surge” (or even grow) 775%. At least not because of electronics demand, anyway. After all, election years do play funny tricks on things.

But that’s a column for another day.

No Silver Lining

Many people have been infatuated by the price of gold in recent months, but the price of silver has also skyrocketed. In 2000 silver was about $3 per troy oz. In the eight years that followed, its price grew to $15/oz. Today it is trading at over $41/oz! This price is almost an all time high, except for the time when the Hunt brothers tried to corner the silver market in 1980. The aberration of their efforts jolted the silver price to just short of $50/oz., but it settled down to $11 or so after the Hunts came under margin call and other pressures.

Unfortunately, the dramatic price increase today, does not appear to be an aberration. Although we may hope that it will soon drop to more historic levels, we may not have reason to expect that it will.

Although not as dramatic, tin and copper have experienced significant prices increases as well. The price of tin has doubled in the last year to $15/pound and copper has increased from about $3/lb to $4.50.  These metals are obviously key ingredients in critical electronic materials such as solder pastes, solder bar, and solder preforms.

In addition, oil, which is used for most organic electronic materials such as PWB resins, flip chip underfill, and epoxy fluxes, has increased to $110/bbl – approaching its all time high of $145/bbl.

All of these price increases have a significant impact on the electronics materials supply chain. Although we are used to price decreases in the cost of our mobile phones and PCs, at this point in time, the price of the materials that go into these devices will be increasing.

As one materials supply chain executive commented at Apex: “It’s not like we can be clever and somehow work around the price increase of silver and these other materials, we have to pass it on to our customer, or go out of business.