The Latest Sprott Newsletter

Please take the time to read this. (Note that I've added my own emphasis to a few points.) If you'd like to subscribe for yourself, click the link below:

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The [Recovery] Has No Clothes
By: Eric Sprott & David Baker

"I believe that there have been repeated attempts to influence prices in the silver markets. There have been fraudulent efforts to persuade and deviously control that price. Based on what I have been told by members of the public, and reviewed in publicly available documents, I believe violations to the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) have taken place in silver markets and that any such violation of the law in this regard should be prosecuted."

- Bart Chilton, Commissioner, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), October 26th, 2010

What a difference a month makes. Now that Greece has been papered over, the bulls are back in full force, pumping up the equity markets and celebrating every passing data point with positive exuberance. Let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet, however. Very little has actually changed for the better, and it's certainly too early to start cheerleading a new bull market.

Take the latest US unemployment numbers, for example. There was much excitement about the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report which announced that US unemployment remained unchanged at 8.3% during the month of February.2 The market was particularly enamored by the BLS's insistence that non-farm payrolls increased by 227,000 during the month, as well as its upward revision of the December 2011 and January 2012 jobs numbers. Lost in all the excitement was the Gallup unemployment report released the day before, which had February unemployment increasing to 9.1% in February from 8.6% in January and 8.5% in December.3 Granted, the Gallup methodology is slightly different than that used by the BLS, but even if Gallup had applied the BLS's seasonal adjustment, they would have still come out with an unemployment rate of 8.6%, which is considerably higher than that produced by the BLS.4 We all know which number the pundits chose to champion, but the Gallup data may have been closer to the truth.

For every semi-positive data point the bulls have emphasized since the market rally began, there's a counter-point that makes us question what all the fuss is about. The bulls will cite expanding US GDP in late 2011, while the bears can cite US food stamp participation reaching an all-time record of 46,514,238 in December 2011, up 227,922 participantsfrom the month before, and up 6% year-over-year.5 The bulls can praise February's 15.7% year-over-year increase in US auto sales, while the bears can cite Europe's 9.7% year-over-year decrease in auto sales, led by a 20.2% slump in France.6, 7 The bulls can exclaim somewhat firmer housing starts in February8 (as if the US needs more new houses), while the bears can cite the unexpected 100bp drop in the March consumer confidence index9, five consecutive months of manufacturing contraction in China10, and more recently, a 0.9% drop in US February existing home sales.11 Give us a half-baked bullish indicator and we can provide at least two bearish indicators of equal or greater significance.

It has become fairly evident over the past several months that most new jobs created in the US tend to be low-paying, while the jobs lost are generally higher-paying. This seems to be confirmed by the monthly US Treasury Tax Receipts, which are lower so far this year despite the seeming improvement in unemployment. Take February 2012, for example, where the Treasury reported $103.4 billion in tax receipts, versus $110.6 billion in February 2011. BLS had unemployment running at 9% in February 2011, versus 8.3% in February 2012.12 Barring some major tax break we've missed, the only way these numbers balance out is if the new jobs created produce less income to tax, because they're lower paying, OR, if the unemployment numbers are wrong. The bulls won't dwell on these details, but they cannot be ignored.

Then there are the banks, our favourite sector. Needless to say, the latest Federal Reserve's bank stress test was a great success from a PR standpoint, convincing the market that the highly overleveraged banking system is perfectly capable of weathering another 2008 scenario. The test used an almost apocalyptic hypothetical 2013 scenario defined by 13% unemployment, a 50% decline in stock prices and a further 21% decline in US home prices. The stress tests tested where major US banks' Tier 1 capital would be if such a scenario came to pass. Anyone who still had 5% Tier 1 capital and above was safe, anyone below would fail. So essentially, in a scenario where the stock market is cut in half, any bank who had 5 cents supporting their "dollar" worth of assets (which are not marked-to-market and therefore likely not worth anywhere close to $1), would somehow survive an otherwise miserable financial environment. The market clearly doesn't see the ridiculousness of such a test, and the meaninglessness of having 5 cents of capital support $1 of assets in an environment where that $1 is likely to be almost completely illiquid.

That anyone still takes these tests seriously is somewhat of a mystery to us, and we all remember how Dexia fared a mere three months after it passed the European "stress tests" last October. There has since been some good analysis on the weaknesses of the US stress tests, including an excellent article by Bloomberg's Jonathan Weil that explains the hypocrisy of the testing process.13 Weil points out that stress-test passing Regions Financial Corp. (RF), which has yet to pay back its TARP bailout money, has a tangible common equity of $7.6 billion, and admitted in disclosures that its balance sheet was worth $8.1 billion less than stated on its official balance sheet. An $8.1 billion write-down plus $7.6 billion in equity equals bankruptcy. But the Federal Reserve's analysts didn't seem to mind. It came as no surprise to see that Regions Financial took advantage of its passing "stress test" grade to raise $900 million in common equity on Wednesday, March 14, which it plans to put toward paying off the $3.5 billion it received in TARP money. Well played Regions Financial. Well played.

Our skepticism would be supported if not for one thing - the recent weakness in gold and silver prices. Given our view of the market, the recent sell-offs have not made sense given the considerable central bank intervention we highlighted in February. Although both metals have had a dismal March, we must point out that they were both performing extremely well going into February month-end. Gold had posted a return of 14.1% YTD as of February 28th, while silver had appreciated by 32.5% over the same period. And then what happened? Leap Day happened.

In addition to being Leap Day, February 29th also happened to be the day that the European Central Bank (ECB) completed its second tranche of the Long-Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO), which amounted to another €529.5 billion of printed money lent to roughly 800 European banks. February 29th also happened to be the day that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered his semi-annual Monetary Policy Report to Congress. Needless to say, during that day gold mysteriously plunged by over $100 at one point and closed the day down 5%. Silver was dragged down along with gold, dropping 6%. Any reasonably informed gold investor must have questioned how gold could drop by 5% on the same day that the European Central Bank unleashed another €530 billion of printed money into the EU banking system. But all eyes were on Bernanke, who managed to convince the market that QE3 was off the table for the indefinite future by simply not mentioning it explicitly in his Congress speech. Given that Treasury yields have recently started rising again and that US federal debt is now officially over $15 trillion, do you think QE3 is officially off the table? We don't either. Just because Bernanke signals that the Fed is taking a month off doesn't mean they're done printing. It doesn't mean they have suddenly become responsible. It's simply a matter of timing.

.
Looking back at the trading data on February 29th, the sell-off in gold and silver appears to have been an exclusively paper-market affair. We were surprised, for example, to note that between the hours of 10:30 am and 11:30 am, the volume of the COMEX front month silver futures contracts equaled the paper equivalent of 173 million ounces of physical silver. Keep in mind that the world only produces 730 million ounces of physical silver PER YEAR. The problem from a pricing standpoint is the simple fact that the parties who were on the selling side of those 173 million paper ounces couldn't possibly have had the physical silver to back-up their sell orders. And the way the futures markets are designed, they don't have to. But if that's the case, how can the silver price be smashed by sell orders that don't involve any real physical?

Looking at this issue from a broader perspective, we've discovered that silver is indeed in a unique situation from a paper-market standpoint. We compared the daily paper-market futures volume of various commodities against their estimated daily physical production. We discovered that silver is disproportionately traded 143 times higher in the paper markets versus what is produced by mine supply. The next highest paper market commodity is copper, which is traded at roughly half that of silver on a paper market volume basis.

Commodity    Daily Paper Volume Traded    Units    Exchanges    Daily Physical Production*    Trading Volume / Production Volume
Oil     1,122,369,441    Barrels    ICE, NYMEX, ICE Brent    78,000,000    14.3 X
Aluminum     7,234,954,585    Pounds    Shanghai, LME    154,440,000    46.8 X
Gold     16,051,790    Ounces    Comex    230,000    69.7 X
Copper     7,242,499,591    Pounds    Shanghai, Comex, LME, MCI    96,400,000    75.1 X
Silver     286,120,771    Ounces    Comex, MCI, Tocom    2,000,000    143.0 X
Source: Barclays, Sprott Research

FIGURE 1: MULTIPLES OF DAILY PHYSICAL PRODUCTION TRADED IN FUTURES MARKETS

medium_production.jpg

Source: Barclays, Sprott Research

We don't know why the paper market for silver is so huge, but we have our suspicions. Silver is obviously a much, much smaller market than that for copper, gold or oil. It could very well be that paper market participants like silver because they don't need as much capital to push it around. The prevalence of paper trading in the silver market is what makes the drastic price declines possible by allowing non-physical holders to sell massive size into a relatively small market. It's not as if real owners of 160 million ounces of physical silver dumped it on the market on February 29th, and yet the futures market allows the silver spot price to respond as if they had.

Same goes for gold. Although gold paper-trading isn't as lopsided as silver's, it too suffers from the same paper-selling issue. Indeed, as we discovered for February 29th, it appears to be one large seller of gold that single handedly downticked the spot price by $40/oz in roughly ten minutes.14 The transaction represented approximately 1.8 million ounces, representing roughly $3 billion dollars' worth of the metal. Who in their right mind would even contemplate dumping $3 billion of physical gold in so short a time span? Dennis Gartman's Letter on March 2, 2012, also mentioned an unnamed source who described an order to sell 3 million ounces of gold that same day, with the explicit order to sell it "in just a few minutes". As the Gartman Letter source states, "No investor or speculator would 1) handle it this way and 2) do it at the fixing only… This [has] happened this way three times in the last year, yesterday being the fourth time. Ben Bernanke had done nothing yesterday to trigger this the way it happened. I [have done] this now for 30 years and this was no free market yesterday."15

The following three charts show the price action and volume for the February, March and April Comex Gold contracts. You'll notice that the February contract stopped trading on February 27th to allow time for settlement between the buyers and sellers who intended on closing the contracts in physical. The March contract had hardly any volume at all, leaving the majority of gold futures that traded on February 29th taking place in the April contract. This speaks to our frustration with futures contracts. The majority of trading that produced the February 29th gold price decline took place in a contract month that won't settle until April 26th at the earliest, giving plenty of time for the shorts to cover and exit without having to back their sales with physical delivery.

FIGURE 2: FEBRUARY COMEX GOLD CONTRACTSource: Bloomberg
medium_februarygold.jpg
FIGURE 3: MARCH COMEX GOLD CONTRACTSource: Bloomberg
medium_marchgold.jpg
FIGURE 4: APRIL COMEX GOLD CONTRACTSource: Bloomberg
medium_aprilgold.jpg
All of this nonsense brings us to the crux of our point. If we are right about gold and silver as currencies, and if we are right about the continuation of central bank printing, both gold and silver will continue to appreciate in various fiat currencies over time. If there is indeed some sort of manipulation in the futures market that is designed to suppress the prices for both metals so as to detract from the mainstream investor's interest in them as alternative currencies, then both metals are likely trading at suppressed prices today. This means that there is an opportunity for investors to continue accumulating both metals at much cheaper nominal prices than they would do otherwise. While the volatility of the price fluctuations may be unsettling, they ultimately won't change the underlying fundamental direction of both metals, which is upwards.

The equity market rally that began in late December appears to be generated more by excess government-induced liquidity than it does by any raw fundamentals. We continue to scour the data for signs of a true recovery and we are simply not seeing it. Until those signs come through, we would be very wary of participating in the equity markets without a strong defensive stance. We would also expect the precious metals complex to enjoy renewed strength as the year continues. One bad month does not change a long-term trend that has been building over 10 years. Gold and silver will both have an important role to play as the central bank-induced printing continues, and we expect more on that front in short order.

PS - if there is any group that can effectively address silver's continued paper market imbalance, it is the silver miners themselves. Despite the best efforts of a select few at the CFTC, it is unlikely that there will be any resolution to the CFTC's investigation announced back in September 2008.16 Silver miners have the most to lose from the continued "fraudulent efforts" that Commissioner Bart Chilton refers to in the opening quote above. They also have the most to gain by confronting the continued paper charade head-on.

1 Chilton, Bart (October 26, 2010) "Statement at the CFTC Public Meeting on Anti-Manipulation and Disruptive Trading Practices".
U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Retrieved March 15, 2012 from:http://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/chiltonstatement102610
2 BLS News Release (March 9, 2012) "The Employment Situation - February 2012". Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved March 15, 2012 from:
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
3 Jacobe, Dennis. (March 8, 2012) "U.S. Unemployment Up in February". Gallup. Retrieved March 16, 2012 from:
http://www.gallup.com/poll/153161/Unemployment-February.aspx
4 Carroll, Conn (March 9, 2012) "Why is Gallup's unemployment number so high?". The Washington Examiner. Retrieved March 17, 2012 from:
http://campaign2012.washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/why-gallups-unemployment-number-so-high/420266
5 SNAP/Food Stamp Participation (December 2011) "More Than 46.5 Million Americans Participated in SNAP in December 2011". Food Research and Action Center.
Retrieved on March 20, 2012 from: http://frac.org/reports-and-resources/snapfood-stamp-monthly-participation-data/
6 Oberman, Mira (March 1, 2012) "US auto sales accelerate despite fuel price jump". Associated Foreign Press. Retrieved March 20, 2012 from:
http://news.yahoo.com/chryslers-us-sales-jump-40-february-142923285.html
7 AAP (March 16, 2012) "Europe new car sales down 9.7% in February". Australian Associated Press. Retrieved March 20, 2012 from:
http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=8435962
8 Homan, Timothy (March 20, 2012) "U.S. Housing Heals as Starts Near Three-Year High: Economy". Bloomberg. Retrieved March 21, 2012 from:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-20/housing-starts-in-u-s-fell-in-february-from-three-year-high.html
9 Reuters (March 16, 2012) "March consumer sentiment dips, inflation view up". Reuters. Retrieved March 20, 2012 from:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/16/us-usa-economy-umich-idUSBRE82F0S420120316
10 Mackenzie, Kate (March 22, 2012) "China flash PMIs *down*". Financial Times. Retrieved March 23, 2012 from:
http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2012/03/22/933081/china-flash-pmis-down/
11 Schneider, Howard and Yang, Jia Lynn (March 21, 2012) "Housing report disappoints as existing-home sales dip in February". Washington Post. Retrieved on March 22, 2012
from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/housing-sales-report-disappoints/2012/03/21/gIQAAcgqRS_story.html?tid=pm_business_pop
12 BLS News Release (March 9, 2012) "The Employment Situation - February 2012". Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved March 15, 2012 from:
http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
13 Weil, Jonathan (March 15, 2012) "Class Dunce Passes Fed's Stress Test Without a Sweat". Bloomberg. Retrieved March 15, 2012 from
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-15/stress-tests-pass-fed-s-flim-flam-standard-jonathan-weil.html
14 CIBC Sales Commentary Mining Morning Note (March 1, 2012)
15 The Gartman Letter L.C. (March 2, 2012)
16 Silver Market Statement (November 4, 2011) "CFTC Statement Regarding Enforcement Investigation of the Silver Markets". U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Retrieved on March 20, 2012 from: http://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/silvermarketstatement

21 Comments

Bugzy's picture

first

Ha!!!!

I used to think this first thing was nuts.

Yet I have been sucked in over time.

And yes, now I can proudly say.....I am indeed nuts.

Norrin's picture

@first

Congratulations Bugzy! It's good to know that I'm not the only one who refreshes the front page multiple times a day. :)

Animal Sacrifice's picture

4th

forth

Driven81's picture

You guys are funny

Gonna have to chew on this article...this is some good stuff. Thanks Turd wish I had something more of substance to say, but i learn a lot so far!

BUSHMAN's picture

GREAT POST

I love point 14

The transaction represented approximately 1.8 million ounces, representing roughly $3 billion dollars' worth of the metal. Who in their right mind would even contemplate dumping $3 billion of physical gold in so short a time span?

I guess they are all above the law

Dr G's picture

Love the newsletter. The

Love the newsletter. The Regions Financial example is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with our current banking/financial sectors. They are insolvent and still bleeding money, unable to payback any of the bailout the TAXPAYERS gave them, yet pass a "stress test" to obtain greater funds. They raised $900 MM in one frickin' day (based on passing a false stress test!!) and THEY ARE BANKRUPT WITH A NEGATIVE BALANCE SHEET. Amazing. I'm in the wrong profession. I should be a crooked bankster and fleece everybody. They don't even hide in the shadows anymore. Unreal.

And just a big LOL at paper silver trading at 143x it's mining production. What a crock. It literally boggles the mind that it is allowed to happen in the first place and continues to occur. The upside to that philosophy is that physical silver is NOT worth $32/oz, yet that is what we are paying for it today. So carry on.

taoJones's picture

your daily Turd #2...

Turd Ferguson's picture

HUGE DROP IN GOLD OI YESTERDAY

MODERATOR

At first glance, it appears the the WOPRS are simply liquidating April gold but NOT rolling into June....yet. April12 contracted by 45,000 yet June12 only went up by 25,000. The resulting net 20,000 loss in OI brings total gold OI down to just 417,000. WOW! 

Can't wait for the CoT on Friday!

Be Prepared's picture

In an Insane World... A Bank CEO really should be payed more

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan's pay quadruples

Why so serious? Bank of America's Brian Moynihan got a hefty raise last year

Brian Moynihan, chief executive of Bank of America, got a substantial raise in 2011. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

In a year when Bank of America’s stock plunged 58% and the company announced plans to lay off 30,000 employees, chief executive Brian Moynihan’s compensation package more than quadrupled to nearly $8.1 million.

Here’s why: In 2011, the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank recorded $1.4 billion in profit after losing $2.2 billion the year before. So far this year, the stock is up more than 70%.

So although the bank’s compensation and benefits committee kept Moynihan’s salary the same at $950,000, he also landed $6.1 million in performance-reliant stock. Then there’s the $420,000 worth of tax and financial advice, along with use of the company’s aircraft, that’s also part of his package.

Along with various other components, Moynihan will have made nearly 317% more last year than the $1.9 million he pulled in during 2010, according to a BofA filing Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Other big executive raises: Disney chief Bob Iger got a 13.6% increase over 2010 with a $31.4-million compensation deal last year. Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone’s $21-million award in 2011 was 39% higher than the pay package the year before

ReachWest's picture

Great Article.

Excellent article. Key take-aways, for me:

  1. Economy ain't improving - it's only a veil of manipulated data that purports an improvement. (And a small amount of insightful digging on the part of real journalists would uncover the truth.)
  2. Europe is not out the woods.
  3. The manipulation of Gold and Silver is rooted at the highest levels - (The Fed). They correctly recognize PM's to be their greatest weakness and must avoid widespread public participation, at all costs.
  4. Regardless of point 3, the trend is upward for the metals - the natural laws of "real economics" will prevail. Value will ultimately accumulate in PM's and any set-backs when measured in Fiat currency per Oz are simply opportunities, for those of us that see it, to continue accumulating Ounces.

I think most regular Turdites were already aware of all of the points raised in this article, but it sure is nice to have it confirmed by someone like Eric Sprott! Keep Stacking. 

gearhead_24's picture

Local LCS's aren't selling near spot....

I went to a couple local LCS on Thursday last week and the cheapest I could find a tube of ASE's were $770.  I said Gainesville is selling at $688, if you come close I would rather buy local.  They both said "buy from Gainesville".  So I did.

I have mixed emotions right now about my purchase.  Maybe I should have waited?  Is this the start of physical decoupling from the paper market?  I don't know???  More questions than answers.

GH

¤'s picture

H'mmm.....

Bank of China Seeks to Join World’s Biggest Metals Exchange

http://www.tfmetalsreport.com/comment/147789#comment-147789

SV's picture

SPROTT!!!

Sprott is a very well-monied man and he is speaking the truth. He is all money down, going long silver like he is, the achille's heel of the world financial system. Sprott should speak out in favor of Ron Paul. 

Check it out: Eric Sprott advocates boycott of Fiat Money, US Dollar at sprottmoney

question's picture

@atarangi; The importance of natural balance - -

Thanks for that link.

The only way to go for more tomorrows.

The wife really wants some chickens; it's going to happen!

Fred Hayek's picture

Harvey has a GREAT Jim Willie piece in today's report

I urge folks to go to the link below and scroll about 1/4 of the way down for a terrific piece on what's really going on in the precious metals market from Jim Willie CB

http://harveyorgan.blogspot.com/

Here's an excerpt:

The Gold Wars have significantly changed in the last two years in particular. From 2004 to 2009, the battle was to win a fair higher gold price. No longer. The war has turned the corner and reached an end game scenario. The objectives have changed. The tactics used have been altered. The upper hand by the Good Guys against the Crooked Boyz is evident. Some new confusion has entered the room. The objective is to remove gold from the bullion bank inventories and major bank inventories, all of it. This is a new battlefield in the war. Being a Zombie bank means losing all the gold in reserves, in a time hourglass process that reflects the reality of their balance sheets. By the end of 2013, no big bank will own any physical gold. They cannot defend against off-side positions in the sovereign bond market and the currency market. See what happened to JPMorgan in such a case, as it preyed upon MFGlobal accounts. Other big banks are losing all their gold from the balance sheet. UBS is a dead body on the field, their false story of a rogue trader having provided a little distraction. Few if any financial press stories are honestly told anymore. Certainly not the Libya story, where 144 tons of gold were confiscated as war booty by London. That supply filled some gaps but only temporarily.
 
Price implications are part of the sacrifice, as the Good Guys will help to push down the Gold price at times in order to kill a gold cartel player. Like right here, right now. Every couple months (the last being in January), a massive group of orders must be filled at a low price, for the benefit of the Good Guys, with an evil player in a vulnerable position, who knows he is dead and must forfeit its gold. The gold market stalls until the hairball is passed and another gold cartel player is gutted, carried off the battlefield under the cover of press darkness. Therefore the Gold price stays down until the order is completely filled, and only then will recover a couple hundred dollars in price per ounce, but only after this gold cartel player is killed off. The player will be identified later, in the fair market obituaries known to the internet journals. The tombstone epitaph will be carved by an Eastern hand. The US press would never report on a cartel bank having to sell $70 to $100 million worth of gold bullion to remove their big off-side position in bonds or currencies. The Good Guys have put in a series of escalating orders at low prices, from extremely well funded accounts whose war chests boast tens of $billions. The damage done to the gold cartel is immense, yet not adequately reported. The pattern showed itself in January, when after a similar event, the gold price moved from roughly 1600 to almost 1800. By February 29th, the cartel leaped on the day into position to conduct one of the largest naked short events in history. The press never seemed to catch wind, since paid not to notice.
ata's picture

@ question - - ( not to be confused with a question?)

The moral of the chicken story of course, is that we need to get away from centrally controlled mono-culture and back to individual freedom with localised planning.                                                                                                                                     This principle applies on all levels including the current corrupt fiat monetary system.                                                                                                                                                          Good luck with the chickens they are great fun if you have enough land for them.

TheGoodDoctor's picture

And this is why position

And this is why position limits would help solve the problem. It's just really sad. SEC and CFTC asleep at the wheel.

TransmissionRebuilder's picture

The SEC and the CFTC

are tools of the EE and the TPTB. aka the fed. The JPMorgue is a part owner of the fed. Hell will freeze over before either of those corrupt entities does a damn thing to "correct" any imbalances in the markets they supposedly oversee.

IMHO the regulatory agencies are not asleep at the wheel, they are complicit in MOPE, and all the manipulation that goes along with it.

On a side note, trusting a government agency to protect us and keep us safe from the "bad" guys seems like a fundamentally flawed way to live as a free human being.

TransmissionRebuilder

stealthbear's picture

Agree, Trans Rebuild

"Asleep at the wheel" implies a passive state of non-awareness.  As you aptly state, they are complicit and manipulative.  Acts of commission, not omission.

TheGoodDoctor's picture

Well ok. Its not like I don't

Well ok. Its not like I don't know this already. I was merely suggesting if they do their job something might get done. We can hope they come back from the dark side no?

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