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Silver Prices Surging on Near-Record Demand

The price of silver is surging and so is business at many coin dealers across the country. At Plaza Collectibles, an appraisals shop in Manhattan, owner Lee Rosenbloom says he’s seeing a tremendous demand both in new and older silver coins. “This is probably the strongest demand there’s been in the last 25 years,” he says.

Silver prices have soared 60 percent in 2010, driven in large part by a strong investment demand, particularly strong buying of exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, backed by the physical metal.

“ETF demand has been an important driver of prices because investors have prepositioned themselves for this central bank buying by emerging markets” says Francisco Blanch, Head of Global Commodity Research at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch .

Other leading gold analysts agree this buying frenzy will continue. Philip Klapwijk, executive chairman of the consulting firm GFMS, says he expects to see $4 billion on a net basis flurrying into silver and gold investment this year. Holdings in the largest silver exchange-traded fund, iShares Silver Trust, are near a record high, trading up 62 percent year to date (as of closing on November 23).

According to Blanch, the increase in silver prices has also been spurred by a rise in industrial demand, which is up 18 percent year over year. A hike in demand for silver from solar panels and pent up demand from the industrial sector is helping to push up prices. He expects to see further growth next year but at a slower pace.

For many investors, silver is a more affordable alternative to gold. Gold coins are traded based on a spot price that is currently almost $1,400 an ounce.

Silver coins are based on futures prices that are under $30 an ounce. “Silver coins are a relatively cheap gift and way for people to accumulate wealth,” says Blanch.

The strong interest in silver has created a record month for sales of the 2010 Silver American Eagle bullion coin, according to the U.S. Mint. Silver coin sales are up 22 percent compared to this period last year and 30 percent since 2007.

Yet, analysts say investors who want to get in on the action and are deciding between holding the actual silver metal or an ETF should weigh their options carefully, since coins ultimatley may cost a higher premium.

But if you're a collector, now is the time to buy, says Scott Travers, author of"The Coin Collectors Survival Manual." He says, "it's probably a better opportunity now than we've ever seen historically for collectors of silver coins.”

Watch Sharon Epperson's TV report about investing in silver today at 10:30am ET on "Squawk on the Street."

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