The Silver Lining

By Matthew McCall | August 25, 2010 AAA

With gold prices sitting near record highs and the amount of publicity the yellow metal garners, it is easy to forget its less-popular cousin - silver. The price of silver has doubled since the low in 2008 and it is closing in on the best level since the spike in 1980.

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The metal varies slightly from gold because gold is typically viewed as a precious metal that is used in jewelry and could be considered an alternative to currencies. Silver on the other hand is also a precious metal, but it also has qualities that allow it to be used in various industries including autos and electronics. The diversification of silver makes the metal an interesting investment opportunity as a secondary play on money flowing into gold.

Investing in Silver Bullion
If you watch television there is a good chance you have noticed the influx in commercials attempting to sell you silver via the mail. Since the fees for these services can be exorbitant, consider instead gaining access to the movements of silver bullion by purchasing the iShares Silver Trust ETF (NYSE:SLV).

The ETF owns silver bullion, and the investment is designed to move in unison with the underlying price of silver. With a small annual expense ratio of 0.5% and the fact SLV can be bought or sold at any time during regular market hours, the ETF is much more convenient than buying and storing the silver bullion.

Silver Stocks
One of the largest publicly traded silver companies on a major U.S. exchange is Silver Wheaton (NYSE:SLW) with a market capitalization of $7.23 billion. SLW is not your typical silver company and the company refers to themselves as the largest metals streaming company in the world.

Instead of mining the silver from the ground, SLW has the right to buy the silver from mines around the globe after paying an upfront fee. The 2010 forecast has SLW's production at 23.5 million silver equivalent ounces and that number jumps to 40 million by 2013. Investors that want direct exposure to the rise in silver prices without the downside risk of the miners, SLW is your ticket.

Pan American Silver (Nasdaq:PAAS) has not performed as well as SLW even though it reported record silver production in the latest quarter. The company's silver production increased by 18% to 6.9 million ounces and net income surged by 79% to $0.17 per share. The Canadian-based firm recorded a sales increase of 32% during the quarter, but it has not been enough to help the stock get back to the June high.

Investors that do not want the company-specific risk and volatility that goes along with stocks can turn to the Global X Silver Miners ETF (NYSE:SIL). For a 0.65% expense ratio, SIL offers exposure to 25 silver mining stocks with SLW the top holding, making up 14% of the entire allocation.

Bullion versus Miners
The age-old question of whether an investor should invest in the metal or in the companies that mine the metal remains alive and well. My best answer is to invest in both. With the introduction of ETFs, investors can now invest in a basket of silver miners located around the globe and the actual silver bullion with two purchases. (For related reading, take a look at Silver Thursday: How Two Wealthy Traders Cornered The Market.)

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