The Record Year The U.S. Imported Nearly A Half Billion Ounces Of Silver

How many precious metals investors know the year the United States imported a record amount of silver?  This figure is so great, there is no other single year in U.S. history that comes anywhere close to this amount.  Even more impressive than that, it turns out to be more than double the global annual mine supply that year.  It is such an unbelievable amount, its record has never been surpassed to this day.

Actually, I was quite surprised by the data when I was researching through some old official records.  Even though the United States currently imports a lot of silver to supply its growing jewelry, industrial and investment demand, it pales in comparison to the nearly half a billion ounces imported this record year.

For example, U.S. silver imports are estimated to reach 6,100 metric tons (mt) in 2016, or 196 million oz (Moz), up from 191 Moz in 2015.  Thus, 196 Moz of U.S. silver imports last year accounted for 22% of global mine supply which is estimated to be 887 Moz.

However, if we look at the following chart, we can plainly see, it doesn’t remotely compare to the massive 473 Moz of silver imported by the United States in 1935:

As we can see, total U.S. silver imports in 1935 stick out like a sore thumb.   Even though U.S. silver imports trended higher from 1980 to 2016, there was this huge anomaly in 1935.  So, what gives?

Well, due to the U.S. Silver Purchase Act of 1934, the U.S. Treasury went on a massive buying spree by jacking up the price of silver to $0.77 in 1935 from $0.44 in 1934.  There is a lot that can be written about the U.S. 1934 Silver Purchase Act, but the motivation by the U.S. Government was to acquire more silver to back their outstanding currency base.

According to a paper written in 1936 titled, Effect Of The Silver Purchase Act Of 1934 On The United States, China, Mexico and India, it stated the following:

Source: Effect Of The Silver Purchase Act Of 1934 On The United States, China, Mexico and India

In order to increase the proportion of silver monetary stocks to gold, the U.S. had to get its hands on a lot of silver.  In this paper, it stated that the U.S. Treasury would have to purchase 1,244,000,000 oz of silver to arrive at this 4:1 Gold-Silver monetary stock ratio.

So, where did the United States import this amazing 473 Moz of silver in one year??  Well, if you guessed China, you are correct.  Of course, not all the silver came from China (India as well), but one hell of a lot did.  This next bit of text from the same paper quoted above shows just how much silver China imported between 1918 and 1931:

Source: Effect Of The Silver Purchase Act Of 1934 On The United States, China, Mexico and India

During that time period (1918-1931), the Chinese imported one billion oz of silver, or 30% of total global mine supply during that time.  After the signing of the U.S. Silver Purchase Act in June 19, 1934, Shanghai silver stocks plummeted:

Source: Effect Of The Silver Purchase Act Of 1934 On The United States, China, Mexico and India

Not all Chinese silver was heading to the United States, but a large percentage.  Unfortunately, this paper did not list and Chinese silver stock figures for 1935, but I do have one from the U.S. Bureau of Mines Mineral Yearbook:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Mines 1937 Mineral Yearbook

In 1935, the United States imported a total of $354.5 million worth of silver.  It is hard to tell exactly what was the average price the U.S. Treasury paid for all of its silver imports that year, but if we apply the $0.77 stated price, the $354.5 million worth of silver imports equals approximately 460 Moz… very close to the 473 Moz stated figure in the first chart published by the USGS silver statistics.

In order for the U.S. Treasury to build up its silver stocks, it pushed up the price it would pay for silver to acquire the metal from various countries throughout the world.  Because of this large increase in the silver price by the U.S. Treasury, it forced the Chinese to go off their silver standard.

Again, there is a lot that could be written about this historic point in time, but that will be for another time.  I just wanted to show just how much silver the U.S. imported in a single year.  If we compare the same figures shown in the first chart above to global mine supply, this is the result:

Thus, U.S. silver imports of 473 Moz in 1935, were more than double the global mine supply of 221 Moz.  Which means, the U.S. Treasury realized it would take a great deal of time to purchase the 1.24 billion oz of silver unless it motivated the rest of the world to let go of some of their silver.  By pushing the price of silver from $0.44 in 1934 to $0.77 in 1935, the U.S. was able to import nearly 40% of their 1.24 billion oz target in just one year.

While the U.S. Silver Purchase Act of 1934 nationalized silver, the U.S. Treasury only purchased 109 Moz from American citizens during the 90-day time limit (source: 1939 Silver Money book).  Which means, the majority of silver the U.S. Treasury needed came from foreign countries like China and India.

There has been articles written by several analysts (Charles Savoie for example) that state the U.S. Silver Purchase Act of 1934 was instrumental in removing the silver standard in several countries like China and Mexico.  While this may be true, the United States was becoming the power-house of the world due to its massive oil discoveries.  We must remember, the U.S. was the Saudi Arabia of the world during World War II.

Regardless, the 473 Moz of silver the U.S. imported in 1935 was the largest amount ever.  Even though U.S. silver imports were quite high in 1936 at 222 Moz, they were less than half of the previous year.

Lastly, many precious metals investors believe the Chinese have a massive hoard of silver.  Honestly, I do not belong to that mindset.  While the Chinese did have a lot of silver at one time, they sold quite a lot of it during the 1930’s and also more in the 2000’s.  Very few Central banks hold any silver.  Most of the silver today is held in private hands or by large institutions… not Central Banks.

The advent of modern technology also forced the United States to remove silver from its coinage in 1965.  However, times are rapidly a-changing.  In the future, the value of silver will not be based on how much is consumed by industry, jewelry or investment demand, but rather how it functions as a HIGH QUALITY STORE of VALUE compared to most other assets that will be disintegrating as the massive amount of debt and derivatives implodes.

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28 Comments on "The Record Year The U.S. Imported Nearly A Half Billion Ounces Of Silver"

  1. A conundrum?

    2008 – the paper price of gold and silver fell steeply, yet demand for physical was exeedingly strong causing supply bottlenecks to occur.

    2017 – sales of physical gold and silver are collapsing and continue to do so, yet in US dollar terms the price is up and continuing to climb!

    A total supply/demand, price disconnect has occurred. Extreme irrational exuberance by the investor as they cash out physical and pour the cash into the stock markets? Whats up?

    http://www.sovereignman.com/trends/demand-for-physical-gold-is-collapsing-21192/

    • I have seen that piece (over on ZH) and think its a bunch of baloney. Shanghai sells and India imports are strong and, besides, retail sales DO NOT have any impact on price. The big banks and the CBs (along with the IMF/ BIS / ESF et al) set the price. My believe is that China und Russia speeding up their stacking as of late is one of the reasons why western hostilities (on many fronts) against them (especially Russia) has been so high… Time will tell, but as far as I’m concerned I will not exchange a grain of silver for fiat at a loss and continue to accumulate until the wheels come off this paper wagon called “financial industry”, which is a mathematical certainty at this point. Only question is the timing, but the sinking EROEI on oil, declining ore grades and ever increasing debt will make sure of that.

      • Agree.

        But why the “softness” in PM retail?
        Cognitive dissonance in the Western populace maybe?
        For sure there is extreme irrational exuberance in the equity space.

        • I can only guess… My take is that many retailers that got in near the tops in 11/12 are discouraged and not switch back to buy the tops in equities (and/or bitcoin). When the last weak hand has sold and only strong hands keep accumulating this *may* turn. Or when London has been completely cleaned out of phizzical, which some people claim is almost the case now (several people are calling for some sort of snap in the PM-market in the near future – the Jackass, Blow-me-Baloney, and McGuire for instance. After crying WOLF for too long, maybe change is indeed near? As far as I’m concerned, I just keep on accumulating slowly and am not too concerned about the price swings anymore; actually I am welcoming low prices for it allows me to get more goodies for the same amount of funny paper money. Surely, we are living in interesting times, but the possible scenarios of will happen once the current status quo breaks is what gives me very unpleasant thoughts. I tell my kids that one is rich, if you’re happy and healthy; your rich if you got lots of money… The latter will be (is) gold (and silver as real money / trans-generational wealth) while the former cannot be bought by anything.

        • I think the majority of investable wealth is with the baby boomers and they are chasing momentum stocks. As the DOW gravitates up it sucks in mom and pop investors desperately chasing the market. Boomers have become desperate speculators hoping to roll the hard 6 before retirement. They have been deprived of bond yields for the last 8 years and are feeling the effects. Physical PMs are for savers that have longer time horizons. GenX and Y don’t have as much in the way of investable assets as the boomers do. Not to mention most people are finding their disposable income being squeezed by inflation, or they feel that their company 401Ks will be enough.

          desperate speculators.

          • If they are desperate now, what will they be in the future ??? I’d rather not imagine…

          • I don’t know about other boomers, everything is phoney-baloney, and I wouldnt touch the equities with a ten-foot-pole, everyone I know is long cash and metal. I think it is the Fed…they have Bloomberg terminals at Eccles ya know…..

    • Outlookingin,

      According to Smaulgld.com, Shanghai Gold Exchange withdrawals hit a record for February. There was 179 metric tons of gold withdrawn from the Shanghai Gold Exchange in February, 60% higher than the same month last year.

      So, the Chinese continue acquire near record amounts of gold (for Feb) while the precious metals investors in the West have taken the TRUMP MIRACLE….. HOOK, LINE & SINKER.

      I would like to remind everyone, that 179 metric tons withdrawn from the Shanghai Gold Exchange in Feb is two-thirds of the global 277 metric ton monthly gold mine supply.

      At some point, the WEST will wake up and will starting BUYING gold and silver HAND OVER FIST.

      steve

      • Hi Steve, I know you’re familiar with the work on silverstealers.net as they have posted an old email containing a quote from you back in 2013. I hope they are wrong over there and hoping for a positive outcome in pm’s, but after reading what’s said, I’m not sure if this is all in vain. What are your thoughts today on their theory?

        • Brian Hines,

          Yes, I am familiar with Charles Savoie’s work on the Silver Stealers. I used to publish his articles a few years ago. Charles is very good at what he does and puts out excellent detailed information. However, Charles Pilgrims work does not include ENERGY in the mix.

          Charles states in a recent interview on Crush The Street that the Pilgrims are going to have the President nationalize silver and drop it to $2.00 an ounce so the United States can get much needed silver for its new WAR with someone. While I can’t say whether Charles is correct or not, I find a price of $2 totally unfounded. The cost of production is $15-$17. So, there is no way the Govt will do this.

          Regardless, Charles again tends to overlook the ENERGY component. He just looks at the Elite Pilgrims associations. The Pilgrims are DEAD IN THE WATER when the ENERGY SYSTEM CRASHES. This is one thing Charles does not take into consideration.

          steve

  2. I don’t buy the “slack in retail silver investors” meme, either. ASE’s are only 3-9s and carry quite a premium relative to RCM’s 4-9s mintage. When speaking recently with reps at Provident and JM Bullion, both spoke of “really busy” and order number sequences between my orders tell the same story, as well. I suspect the “low silver demand” was just another ploy by either JPM, et al to further suppress the price while continuing to purchase anything they can get their hands on or by an agent of the Fed desiring the same results but for another reason, to maintain the illusion of a strong dollar.

    I just keep buying… up/down, it doesn’t matter in the end. It’s all cheap relative to where it’s going. By cost averaging over the last few years, I’ve accumulated a nice little nest egg and as a result, sleep well at night knowing if SHTF before I awake, I’ve prepared for what may come in the best ways I know how.

  3. btw, thanks for another great article and your continued efforts.

  4. Thanks Steve, good work/data appreciated.

  5. It seems to to a odd thing that the USA purchased all that silver and just a couple years later they needed 14,000 tons of silver to loan for a small project called the Manhattan Project .. the silver was loaned out and finally returned in the strategic stockpile. It was supposed to only be for 5 years from 1942 but was not all returned till 1970. Lots of articles if you Google silver used in the Manhattan Project some great reading and this article ties it all together.

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    The Manhattan Project: the Important Role Silver Played In the Building of the Atomic Bomb
    Updated on October 12, 2015
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    Melvin Porter more
    Melvin is an avid reader and a retired scientist (chemist) after working for one major pharmaceutical company for 32 years.
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    Introduction

    The Manhattan Project was a massive, secret organization initiated by the United States’ Army with the goal to generate enough Uranium-235 to build an atomic bomb before Nazi Germany and Japan. Before it was all over the Manhattan Project would eventually employed more than 130,000 workers at a cost of about 2 billion dollars in massive facilities covering about 90 square miles in Oak Ridge, Tennessee located 20 miles west of Knoxville, Tennessee. Canada and the United Kingdom was also involved in this project. In order to process enough Uranium-235 to make the bomb, the army had to obtain permission from the United States Treasury Department to borrow tons of silver stored at the West Point Bullion Depository in New York with a catch. They had to account for and return all the borrowed silver to the depository after the project was completed or within five years.

    The Manhattan Project (1986) [Blu-ray]
    The Manhattan Project (1986) [Blu-ray]
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    The Project’s Goal

    Before the Manhattan Project, only a small amount of Uranium-235, about a few milligrams, was available and was only being produced under laboratory settings. Natural occurring Uranium is 99.3% Uranium-238 and 0.7% Uranium-235. That means for every 100 pound of naturally occurring Uranium, only 0.7 pounds of it is Uranium-235. Only Uranium-235 is fissile, capable of sustaining a chain reaction of nuclear fission. Therefore, the main goal of the project was to devise a safe and efficient way to produce sufficient enriched uranium-235 for an atomic bomb. To make an atomic bomb 50 kilograms of Uranium-235 was needed. This quantity of Uranium-235 is called its critical mass. Keep in mind that it takes 1000 grams to make 1 kilogram of material. An ounce is equivalent to 28 grams so 50 kilograms is equivalent to 110 pounds. The army only needed 110 pounds of Uranium-235 to make the most destructive bomb ever. This does not sound like a lot but at that time it was not easy to make large quantities of Uranium-235.

    The other goal of the project was to scale-up the laboratory method to an industrial production level in order to produce a lot of Uranium-235 in a relative short period of time since time was critical. Nazi Germany already had a running start to produce the first atomic bomb and Japan was planning to build one also.

    The Origin of the Project

    This project was unlike any project before it. The idea of the project was initiated and organized initially by the Office of Scientific Research and Development and later handled over to the War Department in 1942. It first offices were located, believe it or not, on Broadway in New York City as part of the Atlantic Division Headquarters and was called the “Manhattan Engineering District” or MED. The name was later changed to the “Manhattan Project”. Colonel James C. Marshall became the first District Engineer and remained in that position until Colonel Kenneth Nichols replaced him in 1943. Major General Leslie Groves was appointed commanding general of the project.

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    A markerOak Ridge, Tennessee – Oak Ridge, TN, USA get directions
    The location of facility where Uranium-235 was collected for the the production of the first atomic bomb. More 130,000 people once worked here.
    Workers leaving Oak Ridge Facility
    Workers leaving Oak Ridge Facility | Source

    West Point Bullion Depository
    West Point Bullion Depository
    The Three Ways to Make Enriched Uranium-235

    Before the Manhattan Project, there were several ways to produce Uranium-235 and ultimately three of them were used to produce the Uranium-235 during the project. The three main techniques used for uranium enrichment, the separation of Uranium-235 from Uranium-238, were performed as a series in the following order: thermal diffusion, gaseous diffusion, and electromagnetic separation. The electromagnetic separation technique, the final step in the process, is the one I want to discuss here since it pushes the Uranium enrichment to 85%, which was pure enough for atomic bombs.

    Since the electromagnetic separation technique involves using magnets created by winding copper wire around a core and supplying electricity through the wire for the coils, Nichols and Marshall immediately realized that they would need a lot of copper for this project if they were going to scale this up to industrial level. But copper at that time was primarily used in shell casings during the war. So they came up with the idea of using silver as a substitute and there was only one place they knew to get that much silver; the West Point Bullion Depository vault where all the U.S. Treasury silver was stored. Nichols met with Daniel Bell, the Undersecretary of the Treasury Department, on August 4, 1942 to submit a request to borrow 6,000 tons of silver from the depository.

    The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition
    The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition
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    How was the Borrowed Silver Used?

    Once the source of the needed silver was confirmed construction of the electro-magnetic separation plant, codename”Y-12” was started in 1943. It took 20,000 laborers 67 million hours to complete the construction of 200 buildings for this complex. This is where all that borrowed silver from the West Point depository comes in. The borrowed silver was used for the windings in the coils to construct these electro-magnets. A total of 940 magnets were constructed with coils fabricated from about 28 million pounds of silver in the Phelps-Dodge Copper Products Company located in Bayway, New Jersey and another 268,000 pounds of silver was shipped to Oak Ridge to be fabricated into busbar pieces. Busbars were large conductors located over the magnets that conducted electricity to each magnet or calutron. The Calutrons, a total of 96, were arranged in an oval configuration called a racetrack. The shape was later changed to a rectangular configuration due to problems regulating the magnets in the curved portions of the oval racetracks. A total of 12 of these racetracks were built with a grand total of 1,152 electro-magnets.

    The electro-magnetic mass spectrometers (calutrons) used in the projects were large equipments (much larger than a man) used to separate the Uranium-235 from Uranium-238 by shooting an accelerated stream of heated uranium tetrachloride molecules which was vaporized into positively charged ions, between powerful electro-magnets inside a vacuum tank. The magnets bent the stream of ions into two streams where the ions for Uranium–238 and Uranium-235 were collected into separate collectors, since they followed different trajectory paths based on their mass. Only 100 milligrams of Uranium-235, about the size of an aspirin tablet, were collected a day in each calutron. This was the reason why 1000 calutrons was needed to maximize the collection rate of Uranium-235.

    Picture of Racetrack fitted with 96 electro-magnets or calutrons
    Picture of Racetrack fitted with 96 electro-magnets or calutrons
    Single calutron
    Single calutron
    Women operators monitoring the calutrons
    Women operators monitoring the calutrons
    The End Result of the Manhattan Project
    The End Result of the Manhattan Project
    50 Kilograms At Last

    Accumulation of the needed Uranium-235 was a gradual process. The Oak Ridge facility did not produce it first 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of bomb-grade uranium until April 1945. It would take another three and a half month (mid July) before the facility would reach its goal of 50 kilogram (110 pounds) of Uranium-235. The end result was the accumulation of enough Uranium-235 to make the first atomic bomb called Little Boy, which was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

    Returning the Borrowed Silver

    Due to the improvement in the separation process using the gaseous-diffusion technique, just about all the Y-12 buildings except one was shutdown in December of 1946. The transfer of control of the Manhattan Engineering District to the Atomic Energy Commission took place on January 1, 1947. Some of the calutrons are still in use today to separate every element in the periodic table. Most of these calutrons were refitted with copper winding and the silver was removed and sent back to the depository in West Point. The last of the Manhattan Project silver was not return to the depository until June 1, 1970; obviously way past the five year stipulation put forth by the U.S. Treasury back in 1942. In conclusion, all 98 million pounds of silver plus more that was used for the project back in the 1940s were finally back in the vault after June 1, 1970, as

  7. Very interesting point ‘4:1 Gold-Silver monetary stock ratio’.
    Alot more poorer people using silver for everyday transactions, hence the need for greater stock of silver as an everyday food and groceries currency. Yet at that ratio supply breaking was inevitable. Wealth would have transferred to the savers in silver. And wages in silver would have appreciated in purchasing power more rightly corresponding to increases in productivity rewarding workers for their contribution to the community economy. Parasites aren’t known to be parasites for nothing.

  8. Charles Savoie has done a thorough job of revealing the deliberate control of physical silver throughout the world . These constant undertakings and directives helped make clear specific powers of influence. Actions have been played out in order that paper currency and all that it stands for was and is not threatened by what otherwise is a direct threat to it’s existence. All that have involved themselves in this grand scheme have a direct or indirect benefit in seeing to it’s complete success. Within the last 40 years the term “kicking the can down the road ” has represented keeping “their dream” alive and ticking. Physical gold and silver are a real threat to this scheme. Just look at the misbehavior of our politicians. As well the Feds backs are against the wall. Yellen wants to rocket interest rates and Trump is calling foul! For the last eight years she and her cohorts have been doing anything else but that. The hidden agendas are coming to the surface , folks.The tragedy to all of this is that it helps keep the masses of people from around the world enslaved under the controlled currency systems. If the focus was on understanding physical gold and silver for the true worth and value and for what it really stands for (all paper aside) , helping to establish freedoms like never experienced before for many, things would be much different , and for the better for all. Reference :
    http://www.silver-investor.com/charlessavoie/cs_may05_pilgrims.htm

  9. Can anyone explain how China was forced to not back its currency
    with silver due to U.S buying it. If the price were driven up,
    it would be to the advantage of any country to keep backing its
    currency with current supplies at hand, not causing a country to
    not back its currency.

  10. Correction to last paragraph, we still had 40% silver half dollars minted for circulation until 1969. They also had them in the 1970 mint sets, then next year was Bretton woods.

    • C,

      Yes… technically you are correct that the U.S. Government continued to use silver in half dollars until 1969. However, majority of silver coins minted in 1963 were 844 million dimes, quarters & halves compared to 129 million halves in 1969.

      steve

  11. I’m betting on net energy decline will change the world to a more chaotic place and financial instruments especially ones that are complex and leveraged will vanish and companies that produce that are wants not needs will vanish in the same matter you see brick&mortar stores vanishing. So all this debating about demand supply this exchange did this and this guy is saying that who cares it’s all white noise. This only ends badly what that badly looks like exactly one can only speculate and make common sense predictions. In every scenario I play in head pms become the new go to asset for wealth preservation not t-bills

    • A little mistake I meant companies that produce things people need will survive and companies that produce useless widgets will vanish just to be clear

  12. Diogenes Shrugged | March 19, 2017 at 5:54 pm | Reply

    A question for Steve: Jim Kunstler stated in a recent interview that the EROI for hydrocarbon production in the U.S. is 5:1, but that the average ratio worldwide is 17:1. I’m just curious if that sounds right to you. Thanks.

    • Diogenes,

      I believe Kunslter’s global oil EROI is outdated. According to a paper done in 2014 by Hall, Lambert & Balogh on Global EROI’s:

      The EROI for the production of oil and gas globally by publicly traded companies has declined from 30:1 in 1995 to about 18:1 in 2006 (Gagnon et al., 2009). The EROI for discovering oil and gas in the US has decreased from more than 1000:1 in 1919 to 5:1 in the 2010s, and for production from about 25:1 in the 1970s to approximately 10:1 in 2007 (Guilford et al., 2011). Alternatives to traditional fossil fuels such as tar sands and oil shale (Lambert et al., 2012) deliver a lower EROI, having a mean EROI of 4:1 (n of 4 from 4 publications) and 7:1 (n of 15 from 15 publication).

      So, according to their data, global oil and gas EROI fell from 35/1 in 1995 to 18/1 in 2006. That global EROI figure for 2006 is more than ten years old. I highly doubt the current global EROI oil and gas figure is 17:1. As you can see, it fell in half in just ten years from 1995 to 2006.

      You will also note that they calculate the U.S. Oil & Gas EROI was 10:1 in 2007. This was right before the SHALE OIL & GAS BONANZA. So, my best guess is that global EROI is closer to 10-12/1 and U.S. is more like 6-7/1.

      steve

  13. Source: US Debt Clock. For many months, the ratio of debt to gold has been increasing.
    For the last few months, this ration has significantly reversed from $1005/oz down to $852/oz – this was last seen on July 18, 2015 My question: what has changed? Has the US
    acquired a very large amount of gold from a lease of gold from another source? Is this
    related to the need for funding imported goods via gold-Notes? I value your advice, Ross

  14. How does this overlap yo what Bix Wier is talking about in this video? Sometimes I think he is off his rocker, but he may be on to something?

    https://youtu.be/R_kR9d8j6vc

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