Whenever the market experiences its cyclical cataclysms of heady ups and downs, leery investors turn to precious metals. While stocks have had a great run recently, uncertainty regarding domestic and international events continues to draw attention in the new year. There's a good argument to be made for diversifying your portfolio with commodities such as silver, which is in high demand in many different industries: consumer electronics, automobile manufacturing, solar energy and housing, to name a few. (See also: A Beginner's Guide to Precious Metals.)

The price of silver has slightly lagged other precious metals this year and is currently trading at $15.44 per ounce, as of August 2, 2018, down roughly 12% from over $17 an ounce a year ago. A volatile commodity, sensitive to day-to-day movements in the currency and equity markets, actually owning silver is a hassle that many investors would prefer to avoid. Fortunately, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) offer an easy way to gain exposure to silver without owning the actual commodity. There are several silver and silver-mining funds that do a good job of tracking the metal's gains and losses. If you're interested in adding silver to your portfolio, these three silver-backed ETFs are a good place to start. (See also: How Safe Are Gold and Silver Investments?)

Funds were selected on the basis of both long-term performance and assets under management (AUM). All figures were current as of August 2, 2018.

1. iShares Silver Trust (SLV)

  • Issuer: BlackRock
  • Net Assets: $5.17 billion
  • 2017 Performance: 5.82%
  • 2018 YTD Performance: -5.25%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.50% (sponsor fee)

It is important to note straight away that SLV is not a typical ETF. As the prospectus notes, "The assets of the Trust consist primarily of silver held by a custodian on behalf of the Trust," which means that the fund will purely reflect the price movements of silver. Investors purchase shares in the physical silver held by the trust, and the fund charges a 0.50% annual sponsor fee to hold the silver. If you want pure exposure to silver without storing bullion in your safe, SLV is the way to go. 

The fund currently holds about 320 million ounces of silver in trust. Its one-year, three-year and five-year performance figures are -3.56%, 0.27% and -4.40%, respectively. (See also: One Way Investors Are Betting on Silver.)

2. iShares MSCI Global Silver Miners ETF (SLVP)

  • Issuer: BlackRock
  • Net Assets: $64.1 million
  • 2017 Performance: 4.58%
  • 2018 YTD Performance: -6.22%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.39%

This fund aims to track the MSCI ACWI Select Silver Miners Investable Market Index, and it is closely correlated to the price of silver. The fund has a global outlook, investing in mining companies all over the world. It currently holds positions in 32 companies in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. The fund is tilted toward large-cap mining companies. Canada-based Wheaton Precious Metals Corporation (WPM.TO) accounts for over 23% of its holdings

SLVP is a relatively new fund, with an inception date of January 2012. Its one-year, three-year and five-year performance figures are -8.38%, 8.91% and -0.82%, respectively. The fund's reasonable expense ratio, especially for a sector-specific fund, also makes it attractive. (See also: The World's Top 5 Silver Mining Companies.)

3. Global X Silver Miners ETF (SIL)

  • Issuer: Global X
  • Net Assets: $411.01 million
  • 2017 Performance: 1.67%
  • 2018 YTD Performance: -11.52%
  • Expense Ratio: 0.65%

For a different take on silver, this ETF tracks an index of global silver mining companies. It is definitely the dominant player in the space, with exponentially more in AUM than its competitors. With average daily volumes of approximately $2.74 million, SIL has the liquidity to reassure investors looking to enter this relatively volatile market. However, expenses are also higher than straight silver ETFs. There are currently 24 equities in the fund's portfolio. 

The fund's one-year, three-year and five-year performances reflect the trends in silver and come in at -14.92%, 5.34% and -2.99%, respectively. (See also: Is Now the Time to Buy Gold and Silver ETFs?)

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