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Incomplete silver COT analysis, revisited

Steven Saville
Monday, May 21st

In a blog post a week ago I discussed why silver’s Commitments of Traders (COT) situation was nowhere near as bullish as it had been portrayed in numerous articles over the preceding two months. This prompted some criticism that involves a misunderstanding of how I use the COT data. Before I address the criticism, a brief recap is in order.

As stated in last week’s post, the enthusiastically-bullish interpretation of silver’s COT situation fixated on the positioning of large speculators (“NonCommercials”) in Comex silver futures. It was based on the fact that over the past two months the large specs had reduced their collective net-long silver exposure to its lowest level in a very long time, indicating that these traders had become more pessimistic about silver’s prospects than they had been in a very long time. This was clearly a bullish development given the contrary nature of speculative sentiment.

I then explained that two components of silver’s overall COT situation cast doubt on the validity of the bullish interpretation.

The first was that near important bottoms in the silver price the open interest (OI) in silver futures tends to be low, but in early-April of this year the OI hit an all-time high.

The second was that whereas the positioning of large specs in silver futures pointed to depressed sentiment, the positioning of small speculators (“NonReportables”) pointed to extreme optimism. This was evidenced by the fact that over the past two months these traders (the proverbial ‘dumb money’) had, as a group, accumulated their greatest net-long exposure in 9 years. It would be very unusual for a big rally to begin at the time when the ‘dumb money’ was positioned for a big rally.

The latest COT report showed minimal change in the positioning of the small specs. As illustrated by the following chart from goldchartsrus.com, their collective net-long exposure is down from its late-March peak but remains near the top of its 3-year range (and its 10-year range).

The main criticism of last week’s blog post was that the size of the total “NonCommercial” (large-spec) position is about 10-times the size of the total “NonReportable” (small-spec) position and therefore that what the “NonCommercials” are doing is an order of magnitude more important than what the “NonReportables” are doing.

My response is: not if the COT information is being used as a sentiment indicator, which is the only way I use it.

The reason it is useful to know the sentiment of the small traders in any financial market is NOT that these traders are the movers and shakers in the market. They obviously aren’t. If they were they wouldn’t be “small” traders and wouldn’t be classed as “NonReportables” in the COT reports. It is useful to know the sentiment of these minor players because as a group they tend to be wrong when they become extremely bullish or extremely bearish. They are the ‘dumb money’. As I wrote last week and repeated above, it would be very unusual for a big rally to begin at the time when the ‘dumb money’ was positioned for a big rally.

Not surprisingly, then, there was no big rally (or any rally worth trading) in the silver market over the past two months.

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