Silver, like other precious metals, may be used as an investment. For more than four thousand years, silver has been regarded as a form of money and store of value. However, since the end of the silver standard, silver has lost its role as legal tender in many developed countries such as the United States. In 2009, the main demand for silver was for industrial applications (40%), jewellery, bullion coins and exchange-traded products.
Like most commodities, the price of silver is driven by speculation and supply and demand. Compared to gold, the silver price is notoriously volatile. This is because of lower market liquidity, and demand fluctuations between industrial and store of value uses. At times this can cause wide ranging valuations in the market, creating volatility.
Silver often tracks the gold price due to store of value demands, although the ratio can vary. The gold/silver ratio is often analyzed by traders, investors and buyers. In Roman times, the ratio was set at one to 12 or 12.5. In 1792, the gold/silver ratio was fixed by law in the United States at 1:15, which meant that one troy ounce of gold would buy 15 troy ounces of silver; a ratio of 1:15.5 was enacted in France in 1803.The average gold/silver ratio during the 20th century, however, was 1:47. The lower the ratio/number, the more expensive silver is compared to gold. Conversely the higher the ratio/number, the cheaper silver is compared to gold.
From September 2005 onwards, the price of silver has risen fairly steeply, being initially around $7 per troy ounce but reaching $14 per oz. for the first time by late April 2006. The monthly average price of silver was $12.61 per troy ounce during April 2006, and the spot price was around $15.78 per troy ounce on November 6, 2007. As of March 2008, it hovered around $20 per troy ounce. However, the price of silver plummeted 58% in October 2008, along with other metals and commodities, due to the effects of the credit crunch. By April 2011, silver had rebounded to reach a 31-year high hitting $49.21 per ounce on April 29, 2011 due to economic concerns about inflation and uncertainty regarding bailouts in the Eurozone.
Hedge against financial stress
Silver, like all precious metals, may be used as a hedge against inflation, deflation or devaluation. As Joe Foster, portfolio manager of the New York-based Van Eck International Gold Fund, explained in September 2010:
The currencies of all the major countries, including ours, are under severe pressure because of massive government deficits. The more money that is pumped into these economies – the printing of money basically – then the less valuable the currencies become.
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