Shining through the tumult: Gold, silver and related investments

In the midst of the market uncertainty over Brexit, it's not just gold that's shining as an investment alternative these days. Silver is outperforming, as well.

As gold has surged to its highest since March 2014 in recent weeks, silver is hovering around $19 an ounce, up roughly 10 percent since voters in Britain opted to leave the European Union.

Gold has surged to its highest since 2014.

After hitting nearly $40 an ounce in 2011 and then crashing down to $11, silver recently broke above its January 2015 highs, a key price level.

"Silver is still cheap compared to gold, and I would still expect it to outperform gold in the near term," said Fran DeAngelis, a Boston-based expert in precious metals ETFs.

Retail investors can buy funds that invest in bullion or in mining stocks, generally exchange-traded funds and exchange-traded notes (the latter are technically securities backed by banks, which implies more risk).

Some precious-metals ETFs and ETNs aren't very liquid, and the underlying trading and management fees can be pricey, so research them carefully with a broker or financial adviser.

That said, here are some options if you want some exposure to precious metals (we're lumping gold and silver together).

The obvious choice for many investors has been SPDR Gold Shares (GLD), a $42 billion fund that tracks the performance of the price of gold bullion, minus the fund's expenses, and the iShares Gold Trust (IAU), which is similar but somewhat smaller. The iShares Silver Trust (SLV) has the same structure but for silver.

An additional two ETFs invest in gold-mining shares: VanEck's Vectors Gold Miners (GDX) holds large-capitalization companies, while GDXJ represents "junior" or smaller gold-mining companies. Global X Silver Miners (SIL) invests in silver miners, tracking the Solactive Global Silver Miners Total Return Index.

The iShares MSCI Global Gold Miners ETF (RING) tracks the MSCI ACWI Select Gold Miners Investable Market Index and holds major mining company shares such as Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX), Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM), and Goldcorp Inc. (GG).

Caveat: There are meaningful tax considerations.

"If you buy GLD or IAU or SLV, when you sell the capital gains are treated as if you bought and sold a commodity," DeAngelis explained. That tax rate is higher than the rate for capital gains in stocks.

So again, check with your financial adviser before purchase.

ETNs, on the other hand, are treated as stock for tax purposes, so the tax rate may be lower than for some ETFs, he added.

Another option: The VanEck Merk Gold Trust (OUNZ), launched in May 2014, passed $100 million in assets earlier this year. That's still a tiny fund - but it allows investors to redeem shares for actual bullion.

"Investors tell us OUNZ is exactly what they are looking for - a deliverable gold ETF to diversify their portfolio," said founder Axel Merk, president of Merk Investments, the sponsor of OUNZ.

According to Merk, OUNZ is the only ETF that provides a physical gold delivery option. In February, OUNZ investors requested a total of 89 ounces for delivery.

To make small deliveries possible, London bars of gold may be exchanged into other coins and bars at the time of delivery. Because investors own a pro-rata share of the gold held in the OUNZ fund, taking delivery or exchanging the gold into other coins and bars is not a taxable event, according to VanEck.

VanEck also offers the International Investors Gold Fund (INIVX), a mutual fund.

Finally, there are the leveraged ETFs, which double or even triple your bet using borrowed money. These are highly risky and can swing wildly in price. They're truly only for professionals.

ProShares Ultra Silver (AGQ) is a leveraged ETF that corresponds to twice (200 percent) the daily performance, positive or negative, of silver bullion. (That price is measured by the U.S. dollar fixing price for delivery in London).

DB Gold Double Long ETN (DGP) is an exchange-traded note issued by Deutsche Bank that pays based on double the performance of its underlying index, plus the monthly T-Bill index return.

"I don't recommend these for just everyday investors," DeAngelis said. "They trade in a very volatile manner."

DeAngelis said he personally owns RING, AGQ and DGP, and has traded a gold ETN that yields 18 percent called the Credit Suisse Gold Shares Covered Call, which trades options and churns out income every month. A similar ETN for silver, SLVO, yields 15 percent, he added.

"The fees can be high on these, but the income makes up for that," he said.