Silver rallies closer to $50 an ounce

The price of silver jumped again, coming close to taking down a 31-year-old record high.

Gold also rallied, setting its second record high in as many trading sessions, as the bull market in precious metals rolled on.

Silver futures for April delivery traded as high as $49.10 an ounce in New York on Monday before falling back to close at $47.15, up $1.09, or 2.4%. The more actively traded May silver contract rose as high as $49.82 before retreating.

The metal's all-time high, before adjusting for inflation, was around $50 an ounce in 1980, when the Hunt brothers briefly cornered the silver market. There is disagreement about what the actual peak price was then, but many traders say it was in the range of $48 to $50.

Gold rose $5.40 on Monday to $1,508.60 an ounce. Late last week it closed above $1,500 for the first time.

Both metals remain well below their 3-decade-old highs if those records are adjusted for inflation.

To explain Monday's rally, traders pointed to the usual suspects, including a falling U.S. dollar, inflation fears, worries about mounting government debt burdens and continued unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

An index of the dollar's value against six other major currencies slipped 0.1% to its lowest level since August 2008. It's down 6.3% year to date.

For investors who have doubts about the future worth of paper currencies, gold and silver are the obvious hard-currency alternatives.

Sheer momentum also is at work: The higher gold and silver prices go, the more interest they attract from people who want a piece of the action.

"It's Mom and Pop buying and it's also professionals," said Phil Flynn, market analyst at PFG Best Research in Chicago.

Silver has risen in 14 of the last 15 sessions, and gold has gained in 13 of 15.

Dubbed the poor man's gold, silver has rocketed almost 10% just in the last week and is up 52% year to date. "It's gone crazy in the last week," said Bart Melek, a commodities strategist at TD Securities in Toronto.

Gold, by contrast, is up 6.2% year to date — about the same as the gain in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index.

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