Why Silver Could Outshine Gold

NEW YORK ( TheStreet ) -- Silver bulls owe a debt to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With markets unsettled by the Russian move into Crimea, precious metals have climbed.

This year, iShares Silver SLV (ETF) (SLV) has gained 7%, and PureFunds ISE Junior Silver (SILJ) has ranked as one of the top-performing returning exchange-traded funds, returning 36.7%.

"People are looking for safe havens, and that has helped silver prices in the last few months," says Jay Jacobs, a research analyst for Global X Funds, which operates ETFs.

Can silver keep shining? That is hard to know. If Putin retreats, prices could soften. But there are good reasons to include silver in a commodities portfolio. A dose of silver can help to diversify gold-heavy commodity positions, and silver looks relatively cheap compared with gold.

In recent months, silver has risen in lockstep with gold as investors sought safety. But the two precious metals don't always move in tandem.

In the turmoil of 2008, iShares Silver lost 23.4%, while SPDR Gold Trust (ETF) (GLD) gained 5%. In 2010, the silver ETF rose 82.1%, compared with a gain of 29.3% for the gold fund.

Silver prices don't always track gold because the two precious metals serve somewhat different markets. While gold and silver are both used for investments and jewelry, silver has additional industrial customers, including fast-growing makers of mobile phones, television screens and solar panels. As a result, silver sometimes rises and falls along with industrial metals, such as copper.

Even when it tracks gold, silver can be especially volatile because supplies are relatively small. So trades by a limited number of investors can push prices up or down sharply.

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