NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When it comes to playing precious metals, no shiny material gets more press than gold. This yellow metal has consistently been looked to in times of turmoil as the ultimate play on market uncertainty.As the global economy started its journey down the road to recovery last year, increasing skepticism over the rally's longevity, plus inflation fears, sent investors pouring into the gold market, boosting prices to record-breaking levels. Because of its chemical make-up, gold is too soft to serve any industrial use. Given this quality, the metal's price is not affected by the performance of the market, thereby making it an ideal way to protect against market downturns and uncertainty. In order to gain access to this "barbarous relic," investors have long had the option of buying up physical gold and storing it in a vault. Today, however, investors have been increasingly turning to the wildly popular physically backed gold ETFs, gold miner ETFs and gold mutual funds currently available. Some of the more popular products available today include the iShares COMEX Gold Trust ETF ( GLD), the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF ( GDX) and the Tocqueville Gold Fund ( TGLDX). Unfortunately for gold bugs holding these funds, as the global market has continued higher, a lot of the fear that served as fuel for the metal's rally has fallen by the wayside as the U.S. dollar has strengthened. In response, gold prices have leveled off. At the height of its popularity, the metal was breaking the $1,200 per ounce level. Recently, though, the price of an ounce of gold hovered closer to $1,100. Gold's stumble can be viewed as a sign that the average investor's appetite for risk is returning. Rather than seeking out the safety and security that gold provides, investors have turned their attention to riskier asset classes. This flight to risk includes taking on more industry dependent precious metals as a part of their portfolio. One of the more popular options has been platinum. Typically, platinum prices will lag gold in times of trouble, while outperforming in times of market strength. Today, it appears we are in the midst of the latter scenario.
Platinum, unlike gold, serves industrial purposes and is becoming more essential each day. Demand forecasts for the metal look strong given its use in the production of household items such as LCD televisions, as well as its use in the production of catalytic converters for automobiles. Though the outlook for platinum looks optimistic, investing in the metal using ETF has not always been easy. Prior to 2010, aside from a few illiquid exchange-traded notes, ETF investors looking for exposure to platinum had very few options available. This all changed in the first quarter when two new products were launched, allowing investors access not only to physical metal, but to the miners responsible for its production as well. The ETF Securities Physical Platinum Shares ( PPLT) made waves as one of the first official fund launches of 2010. This instrument, like GLD, tracks the price of physical platinum. In the past month, its performance against GLD highlights investors' flight to risk. Since inception through March 30, PPLT is up nearly 4% while GLD treads in negative territory. Investors who are more interested in tracking companies responsible for the production of platinum can turn to the First Trust ISE Global Platinum Index Fund ( PLTM). This instrument, which made its entrance into the ETF arena in early March, is the first fund designed to track major domestic and international platinum metals group miners. Top positions include Aquarius Platinum, Anglo Platinum, MMC Norilsk Nickel ( NILSY) and Impala Platinum Holdings. Be aware, however, that this fund is brand new to the industry and may take some time before it gathers enough steam to be stable. In the end, although platinum has had an impressive run against gold recently, it would be unwise to transition entirely to the white metal from the yellow. On the contrary, it is important to hold onto defensive plays in order to prevent against unexpected market turmoil. However, in times of strength, exposure to an industry dependent precious metal like platinum will prove a nice addition for risk hungry investors. -- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.