Despite gold's popularity, though, I think there's a better bet for fans of hard assets right now: silver. While silver don't necessarily carry gold's cachet, this precious metal does have some interesting attributes. Unlike gold, which has comparatively few industrial uses, silver is actually consumed through many manufacturing processes -- a factor that decreases the available supply of silver and maintains a relatively inelastic demand for the metal. I think that silver is significantly undervalued right now, but there's no telling how long that will last.
The easiest way to get access to silver is the
iShares Silver Trust
. In fact, this ETF is the only fund that offers direct exposure to silver right now.
Don't think that precious metals are the only option for investors hoping to fly to quality. Treasuries and money markets are popular choices that have their fair share of complexity.
The money market, which includes everything from T-bills to eurodollars to CDs, is basically a market of short-term borrowing and lending. Because of their short time horizon, money market investments are less risky than other options, but that safety comes with less reward.
For the truly risk-averse investor, T-bills are short-term government borrowings that are as risk-free as possible. They're popular because their denominations make them accessible to individual investors, but because of their minuscule returns, I'd only recommend them to the most pessimistic of investors.
I think other money market instruments are more attractive, but I'd caution buyer beware. Scores of investors have been scammed by disreputable banks offering extremely high-yield CDs. Lack of risk comes at the cost of low returns.
One of the best options for risk-averse investors is through longer-term government debt such as T-bonds. Treasury bonds have maturities of 10 years or more -- and for investors who foresee increased volatility ahead, keep in mind that for longer maturities generates better yields. A couple of popular treasury funds are the
iShares Lehman 3-7 Yr Treasury Bond ETF
and, for international exposure, the
SPDR Barclays Capital International Treasury ETF
Nearly any low-risk investment you can imagine can be accessed easily these days through ETFs. To see more flight-to-quality funds,
have a look at this portfolio on Stockpickr
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.