1. Rare Earth Metals
The name “rare earths” may be something of a misnomer, as the Washington Post noted in a 2011 story. The metals are actually not extraordinarily rare, but production is currently largely limited to China, which aggressively pursued market leader status in the field, while relaxing environmental controls. The global economy relies heavily on a wide variety of little-known metals, and China has an export quota that limits supply of these rare earths. Currently, there is one ETF tracking such rare earth and strategic metals: Market Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (NYSEMKT: REMX). The fund invests in publicly traded companies within the United States and abroad that are involved in mining and refining these metals.
2. Gold Miners ETF
Gold mining ETFs are probably not suitable for investors who feel skittish about gold — gold mining stocks have recently plummeted even more than the precious metal. With prices falling, miners are under pressure to cut costs, while the specter of rising interest rates could also scare gold investors. However, for those who want exposure to gold and believe that there is unlocked value in mining stocks, a number of ETF options exist. These include the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEMKT: GDX), which invests in mining stocks in the United States and abroad, as well as the Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (NYSEMKT: GDXJ), which tracks smaller, early stage (exploration and development) companies
Platinum is more expensive than gold. The most recent London fix price for platinum was $1,388 per troy ounce, versus $1,242.50 for gold. South Africa is the largest producer of platinum, accounting for a major share of the world’s supply. As a result, platinum prices can be influenced by the value of South Africa’s currency, the rand, and by mining activity in the area. The automotive sector is a major buyer of platinum. The metal is used in manufacturing catalytic converters, which help limit auto emissions. Much like gold, a portion of the metal is used in fabricating jewelry as well. Investors who want exposure to platinum can invest in funds such as the ETF Physical Platinum Shares (NYSEMKT: PPLT), which keeps physical supplies of the metal vaulted.
Silver is considerably cheaper than gold, with the most recent London fix — a process through which banks set benchmark spot prices for metals — at $19.41 per troy ounce. While silver is often used, like gold, to protect against inflation, the metal also has a number of industrial uses. This means that demand for the metal can rise as the economy improves. Yet silver prices can also be especially volatile, in part because the market for silver is smaller than that for gold. Silver ETFs include such funds as the iShares Silver Trust (NYSEMKT: SLV), which holds physical silver bullion, and the iShares MSCI Global Silver Miners (NYSEMKT: SLVP), which holds a portfolio of silver mining company stocks.
Palladium is similar to platinum in that it is part of the platinum metals group, and it is also used in catalytic converters for cars. Since the auto industry accounts for much of the industrial use of palladium, increases in car sales can drive up demand for palladium. Russia is the world’s largest producer of palladium, which is frequently a byproduct of nickel mining. Currently, investors who want exposure to the metal can buy shares in ETF Physical Palladium Shares (NYSEMKT: PALL), which holds palladium bullion in vaults abroad.