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SEC Clears Silver ETF for Launch

The long-awaited exchange-traded fund will begin trading Friday.

After a long wait, it looks like Wall Street will soon be paved with silver.

The highly anticipated silver exchange-traded fund was cleared Thursday by the

Securities and Exchange Commission

, a spokesman for the agency said. The new ETF, which is scheduled to start trading Friday on the American Stock Exchange, will be listed under the ticker SLV.

The silver ETF, the first of its kind, is sponsored by Barclays Global Investors, a unit of the British bank

Barclays PLC

(BCS) - Get Free Report

. BGI originally applied to list 13 million shares backed by 129 million ounces of silver in an arrangement similar to the pair of existing gold ETFs, the

StreetTracks Gold Trust

(GLD) - Get Free Report

and BGI's own

iShares Comex Gold Trust

(IAU) - Get Free Report

. Under this structure, the precious metal is tucked away in a vault while investors buy and sell shares that each represent about 10 ounces of silver.

Since 129 million ounces equates to roughly 16% of the world's annual silver production and 21% of the known above-ground inventories of silver, the ETF has driven up silver prices significantly since news of its planned introduction first appeared.

As a result, the ETF came under heavy attack by the Silver Users Association, a trade group that lobbies on behalf of silver producers and distributors. The group contested the ETF, saying it would make silver illiquid and lead to manufacturing job losses.

May silver contracts recently traded as high as $12.90 an ounce, up more than 40% since the start of the year.

"The American Stock Exchange is proud to be leading the industry in bringing new and innovative products to the marketplace," said Cliff Weber, senior vice president of the exchange's ETF Marketplace. "The iShares Silver Trust is the latest in a growing list of commodity-based products that have listed on the Amex, and we are pleased to be partnering with BGI to launch this new trust."