With the Fed essentially announcing that they plan on tapering their asset purchases due to a bettering economy, precious metals have been falling by the wayside. Gold is down hard since reaching its lofty $1900 an ounce peak, while platinum has similarly imploded- with funds like the ETFS Physical Platinum Shares (Nasdaq:PPLT) now sitting closer to their 52-week lows than highs. Given the recent falling prices in the precious metals space, some investors have begun to consider bottom fishing for the long term. However, for those investors looking for value may want to consider gold's "poor man's twin". Silver has had an equally poor performance over the last few months, but could have the most to gain from an improving economy. For portfolios, it could finally be time to give the white metal ago.SEE: The Most Affordable Precious Metals ETFs Bullish Outlook As the global economy has gotten better, silver has lost some of its luster. So far, futures for the white metal have fallen about 34% and recently touched lows not seen since August of 2010. Much of that fall stems from the idea that a growing global economy will lessen the need for safe haven assets like precious metals. However, that being bullish on global growth is exactly why investors should be considering silver for their portfolios. While many investors saw the metal as a safe haven, silver’s real value lies as an industrial component. The metal has established uses in automotive sector, electronics, solar and photography. New technologies such as silver oxide batteries, silver conductive inks and various silver based nanotechnologies in medical applications are all quickly becoming standards in their industries. Overall, industrial uses account for roughly 45% of silver demand and that demand is expected to rise exponentially over the next few years.SEE: A Silver Primer Much of that silver demand will come from the solar sector. Since 2000, consumption of silver by photovoltaic producers has risen approximately 50%. According to researchers at the Silver Institute, making 1 megawatt of electricity via solar panels requires up to 2.8 million ounces of the precious/industrial metal. China and Japan –alone- have plans to increase their generation capacity by a whopping 27 GW. If they hit that target, they will use roughly 91 million ounces of silver. That’s about 11% of 2012’s total global mine production. At the end of the day, silver has been cut down because of “precious” status. However, it’s industrial use will help spur it higher in the years ahead. A Sterling PortfolioThere are several choices for investors wanting to add an allocation to silver to a portfolio. Several large diversified miners like Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO) include silver production, and can be seen as one-stop shops for commodities exposure. However, there are some real direct ways to play silver and its growth. Both the iShares Silver Trust (NYSE:SLV) and ETFS Physical Silver Shares (NYSE:SIVR) are the easiest ways for investors to track silver prices. These physically backed ETFs represent an ounce of the metal stored in a vault on behalf of investors. The iShares fund does have the advantage in terms of asset size as well as trading volume. However, longer-term holders may want to consider the SIVR as it offers investors a cheaper expense ratio at 0.30%. Investors wanting to use futures contracts to add silver exposure can do so with the PowerShares DB Silver (NYSE:DBS). The fund features a strategy that protects against contango and seizes the benefits of futures backwardation. Likewise, investors looking to add some more “oomph” to their silver investments can do so with the leveraged futures-based ProShares Ultra Silver (NYSE:AGQ). Finally, some of the biggest values in the silver space could be the miners that physically dig the metal out of the ground. Companies like Coeur Mining (NYSE:CDE) and Hecla (NYSE:HL) have fallen harder than the metal itself over the last few months. That could make the broad Global X Silver Miners ETF (NYSE:SIL) a buy. The fund tracks 30 different silver miners and is down nearly 48% year to date. That could make it a compelling falling angel for silver-focused investors to snag up. The Bottom Line As the precious metal space has given up many gains in the wake of a strengthening global economy, silver remains a value. The metals industrial side will help propel it higher over the next few years. For investors, funds like the UBS E-TRACS CMCI Silver TR ETN (NYSE:USV) are a prime way to play the growth.
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