Silver may be used as an investment like other precious metals. It has been regarded as a form of money and store of value for more than 4,000 years, although it has lost its role as a legal tender in all developed countries since the end of the silver standard. Some countries mint bullion and collector coins. In 2009, the main demand for silver was for industrial applications (40%), jewellery, bullion coins, and exchange-traded products. In 2011, the global silver reserves amounted to 530,000 tonnes.
The price of silver is driven by speculation and supply and demand, like most commodities. The price of silver is notoriously volatile compared to that of gold because of the smaller market, lower market liquidity and demand fluctuations between industrial and store of value uses. At times, this can cause wide-ranging valuations in the market, creating volatility.
Silver often tracks the gold price due to store of value demands, although the ratio can vary. The crustal ratio of silver to gold is 17.5:1. The gold/silver price ratio is often analyzed by traders, investors, and buyers. In Roman times, the price ratio was set at 12 (or 12.5) to 1. In 1792, the gold/silver price ratio was fixed by law in the United States at 15:1, which meant that one troy ounce of gold was worth 15 troy ounces of silver; a ratio of 15.5:1 was enacted in France in 1803. The average gold/silver price ratio during the 20th century, however, was 47:1.
Physical bullion in coins or bars may have a premium of 20 percent or more when purchased from a dealer. Silver bullion bars have been available for purchase at a premium of less than 7% over the Comex spot price for much of 2015 and early 2016, while government-minted coins still command a much higher premium.
Physical coins generally have a higher premium, for example silver eagles coins released from the US mint at a $2 premium to official distributors who then sell coins for a mark up of $2.30 to $2.50 to customers depending on market conditions.
In recent years ecommerce growth in the physical bullion industry has seen premiums reduced for retail investors to purchase products online with door to door shipping. Many online dealers provide international shipping and weekly discounts on a wide range of products.
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