Silver, with atomic number 47 and symbol Ag, is a valuable, highly versatile, and unique precious metal. It has a special place in the history of metals, being one of the first five metals humans discovered and used. It's the most common noble metal and is highly resistant to oxidation and corrosion. Silver's use as a measure of wealth dates back more than 5,000 years: Before the 20th century, silver coins were the basis of monetary systems worldwide.
Today, approximately 65% of silver is used by industry, thanks to its abundance and high electrical and thermal conductivity. The world's silver industry consists of miners, refiners, traders, and fabricators. From 1996 to 2005, the silver industry expanded, thanks to rising fabrication demand and mine supply. Silver resources can be found throughout the world in all continents — except for Greenland and Antarctica.
Today, industrial silver is frequently used in electrical goods and electronics and in photovoltaic cells. It's commonly found in alloys and solders, in chemical catalysts (notably ethylene oxide), and as a biocide.
Investment in silver has ebbed and flowed over the years. In January 1980, silver hit its all-time high of $49.45 an ounce when the Hunt brothers, Texas oil barons, tried to corner the market as a hedge against inflation. More recently, investor interest took off during the financial crisis of 2007. In 2011, silver almost hit $50 an ounce again, following rumors of a global supply shortage. By 2013, world investment had risen from 5 percent to 22 percent.
When considering the price on a medium term, silver is often more comparable to copper. This is due to its common use as an industrial metal. However, since 1968, silver has paralleled gold in the market on 75 percent of all trading days.
Silver Exchange Traded Funds (EFTs) are highly popular with private investors. Individuals who want to buy investment silver can do so by going through OneGold. Private investors often hold shares in a trust fund, which stores silver and other metals for them in a bank. A fifth of investment silver is in coins and smaller bars. The demand for these items has grown since the financial crisis.
Problems for individuals include dealing spreads (up to 10 percent bid-ask) and the applicable taxes in many countries. Going through OneGold is a way to own silver outright while avoiding these extra costs.