NEW YORK ( TheStreet ) -- While gold prices had a stellar year in 2010, silver prices were even hotter. Silver prices ended the year up 80% compared with the yellow metal's 28% rally. Many analysts and silver bugs anticipate an even stronger showing in 2011. David Morgan, founder of Silver-Investor.com, predicts silver prices between $30 and $40 with a possible break to $45 an ounce. Rob McEwen, CEO of U.S. Gold ( UXG), says if the silver-to-gold ratio adjusts to a previously achieved relationship, silver prices would have to move much higher. When both metals were at their previous highs in 1980 -- $50 for silver and $850 for gold -- it took 17 ounces of silver to buy one ounce of gold. At today's prices, the ratio is 46:1. McEwen argues that "if you moved to 30:1, you would have a considerable move." Silver prices would spike to $46 an ounce. Granted, CEOs of mining companies have a vested interest in high metals prices, but Phillips Baker, CEO of Hecla Mining ( HL), cites silver's industrial uses for why he is so bullish on the metal. "You're going to see people continuing to move towards the consumption of the products that use silver as their economies develop ... It's a path the world is on that's not going to stop," Baker says. Silver's industrial uses are nothing new but some of the products it is being used for are like the iPad and solar panels. "Those sorts of things people didn't envision even existing and that market has just grown, taken off," says Baker. "We've seen in the last year the growth in that type of use increase about 18%." Like gold, there are many ways to buy silver: the physical metal, physically backed exchange-traded funds like the ETFS Physical Silver ( SIVR) or iShares Silver Trust ( SLV), silver mining stocks and silver stock ETFs.
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), Pan American Silver ( PAAS), Silver Standard ( SSRI), Hecla Mining, and Coeur d'Alene Mines ( CDE). 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.
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