What Is a Silver ETF?

A silver exchange-traded fund (ETF) invests primarily in hard silver assets, which are held in trust by the fund manager or custodian. Established typically as grantor trusts, silver ETFs allow each share represented by the ETF the specific right to a particular quantity of silver, measured in ounces.​​​

Key Takeaways

  • A silver exchange-traded fund (ETF) invests primarily in hard silver assets, which are held in trust by the fund manager or custodian.
  • Seen as a hedge against inflation, exchange-traded funds in precious metals, like silver, became popular.
  • ETFs allow for greater liquidity than holding the metal itself, are readily traded, and are more accessible for individuals than the futures markets.

Understanding a Silver ETF

​​​​​​​Silver ETFs aim to track the spot price of silver on the open market as closely as possible. The first to market was the iShares Silver Trust, managed by Barclays Global Investors and introduced in 2006.

Silver ETFs, alongside gold ETFs, were introduced in the early 2000s, opening up an attractive investment vehicle for individual and institutional investors alike. Seen as a hedge against inflation, exchange-traded funds in precious metals, like silver, became popular. ETFs allow for greater liquidity than holding the metal itself, are readily traded, and are more accessible for individuals than the futures markets.

Tax Implications of Silver ETFs

Investors should understand how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will tax gains from silver exchange-traded funds.

  • Silver ETFs held in taxable accounts are subject to a higher long-term capital gains rate on any holdings of more than one year. Because silver ETFs are considered to be investments in the raw metal itself, gains are assessed on silver as a collectible and are subject to up to a 31.8% long-term capital-gains rate.
  • Silver ETFs held in individual retirement accounts (IRAs) are not subject to this higher gains tax. The IRS has given holdings in IRAs special clearance.

Silver ETFs as a Means of Diversification

Market volatility tends to increase investor attention on the importance of diversifying their investment portfolios to weather market turbulence. Amid volatility, precious metals like silver tend to become more attractive to investors, given their safe haven status. 

An argument in favor of adding layers of diversification to a portfolio with commodities, such as silver, is that it is in high demand in many different industries, including consumer electronics, automobile manufacturing, solar energy, and housing, to name a few. 

Examples of Silver ETFs

There are several silver and silver-mining funds that do a good job of tracking the metal's gains and losses. Examples of popular silver-related ETFs include the iShares MSCI Global Silver and Metals Miners (SLVP). "The fund will seek to track investment results of an index composed of global equities of companies primarily engaged in the business of silver exploration or metals mining" as stated on their website.

iShares Silver Trust (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 management and sponsor fee to hold the silver.

Global X Silver Miners ETF (SIL) offers a different take on silver. This ETF tracks an index of global silver mining companies. With average daily volumes of approximately 211,000 shares, SIL has less liquidity than other popular silver ETFs.