Gold tends to be all the rage in times of economic uncertainty. Investors flock to the "yellow metal" when things go sour because they see it as a safe haven for their money until they feel better about venturing back into things they view as riskier, like common stocks and real estate. (Check out Real Estate Vs. Stocks: Which One's Right For You?)
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Such a strategy can actually be very dangerous, though. When gold or any other investment becomes too popular, it raises the risk of a "bubble" - unsustainably high prices that could suddenly plummet, losing investors a lot of money very quickly.
That doesn't mean you should avoid gold altogether; just don't put most or all of your money into it. There are lots of other precious metals, and many could be considered better investments than gold because they're more versatile and aren't such strong objects of investor sentiment. Here are five metals that may be an alternative to look at besides gold.
This is one of the most versatile metals. It's used to make electrical wiring, car batteries, microchip circuitry, pipes for plumbing in homes and commercial buildings, roof flashing, gutters, musical instruments and solar power cells. Copper can also be mixed with other metals to make valuable alloys such as bronze, pewter and brass. (Foresight and careful observation are the keys to trading this market An Overview Of Commodities Trading.)
Like copper, zinc is present in many alloys (in fact, zinc and copper are both in brass and bronze). Zinc is also important for die-casting, galvanizing and rubber making and can be used as a paint pigment, wood preservative and agricultural fungicide. As a dietary supplement, it is thought to have antioxidant properties that speed healing and slow aging.
Besides its well-known uses in making jewelry, silverware and coins, silver is in dental fillings, architectural glass and hearing aids. Some musical instruments are made of silver or silver alloys and silver is used to produce formaldehyde. Because it has antibacterial and antifungal properties, it is included in catheters and other medical devices to reduce the risk of infection. It is even added to socks to help control bacteria-related foot odor. (If you are a hedger or a speculator, this market offers a world of profit-making opportunities, check out Trading Gold And Silver Futures Contracts.)
As a primarily industrial metal, platinum plays the role of catalyst in the processing of petroleum and chemicals such as nitric acid, fertilizers and synthetic fibers. It is also a vital component of high-voltage wires, magnetic coatings for high-density hard disk drives, fiber optics, fiberglass, catalytic converters and spark plugs.
Like platinum and silver, palladium plays key roles in the dental, chemical and auto fields. iPhones and other electronics might not even exist if it weren't for palladium. Also known as "white gold," palladium is used to make jewelry and watches, too.
Why They're Worthy Investments
Precious metals with lots of different uses make attractive long-term investments. These metals are more apt to appreciate and hang on to their value over time because they're vital to industries around the world. However, you can expect their prices to fluctuate greatly from week to week and month to month, just like most other investments.
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Gold really isn't the greatest investment for the long haul because its price often depends mainly on how people feel. It may rise a lot when investors are nervous and want something that seems safe. But it can very quickly lose value when investors start feeling bolder and begin venturing into other areas. Sentiment certainly plays a role in the value of other precious metals, but not to the extent that it does with gold.
How to Invest In Precious Metals
Precious metals are generally available as coins or bullion. However, most people invest in them by purchasing stock in the associated mining companies or buying shares of mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that specialize in one or more metals.
Be careful when investing in precious metals. Because they can be very volatile in the short-term, it's best not to over-represent them in your portfolio. Keep the portion reasonable – 4-10% of your overall portfolio, for example - so you can enjoy the shine without undue risk.
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