Buying mining stocks can be a more risky but more profitable way to buy silver. Shares often come with as much as a 3:1 leverage to the spot price but leverage works both ways and typically miners lead on the way down and on the way up.
Nevertheless, silver stocks had a killer year in 2010. Global X Silver Miners ETF (SIL), a basket of silver stocks, has returned 88.88% since its inception on April 20, while silver prices rose 71% in the same time period.
The ETF comes with a 0.65% fee but gives investors exposure to a plethora of silver companies. The five largest U.S. traded companies are Silver Wheaton (SLW - Get Report), Pan American Silver (PAAS - Get Report), Silver Standard (SSRI - Get Report), Hecla Mining, and Coeur d'Alene Mines (CDE - Get Report).
So which makes the better investment: the ETF or the individual stocks? Here's a look at the basic financials on the five largest holdings in SIL that are publicly traded in the U.S., how the stocks have performed of late, and Wall Street's opinion of where the shares are headed.