Silver mining is widespread among countries around the world, from South America to Asia and Africa. The white metal finds value as both a precious — used to make jewelry and coins — and industrial metal — used in cellphones and solar panels. What some investors might find interesting is that silver is produced by and large as a by-product of metal, mined alongside other commodities like copper, lead and zinc, rather than coming from primary silver production.
Global silver production increased to 787 million ounces in 2012, according to the Silver Institute. Below are the 10 countries with the greatest production that year.
Mine production: 162.2 million ounces
Silver production in Mexico increased 6 percent in 2012, up from 153 million ounces in 2011. The country has been a major producer of the precious metal for centuries.
Mexico-based precious metals company Fresnillo (LSE:FRES) is the largest primary silver producer in the world, according to its website. With seven assets currently in operation, the company’s total proven and probable reserves is 497.96 million ounces.
However, according to Forbes, Goldcorp’s (NYSE:GG) Penasquito mine was vital in growing the country’s overall production in 2012. On that property, silver is mined as a by-product of gold, lead and zinc. Goldcorp expects its silver production to reach as much as 21 million ounces in 2013.
Mine production: 117 million ounces
In 2012, China surpassed Peru to become the second-largest producer of silver in the world. According to Kitco, the former’s production grew from 104 million ounces the year prior. Despite slight changes in its position over the years, China has always been a top producer of the precious metal.
Mine production: 111.3 million ounces
Peru was pushed out of its second-place spot by China in 2012, but it still remains at the top of global silver production. In 2011, Peru produced 110 million ounces of the precious metal. The South American country still has the largest in-ground reserves of silver in the world, at 120,000 tons, according to the US Geological Survey.
The Antamina mine in north-central Peru is one of the greatest silver producers in the world. Its primary operator is Compania Minera Antamina , and its silver production as of Dec. 31, 2012 was 12 million ounces.
Mine production: 56.9 million ounces
Like Peru, Australia also has sizable silver reserves of 69,000 tons. According to Geoscience Australia, most of the country’s supply of the metal comes from the silver-bearing lead mineral galena.
In 2012, Australia’s multinational mining and petroleum company BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BLT) saw a silver output of 39 million ounces, making it the second-largest silver-producing organization that year.
Mine production: 45 million ounces
Along with China and Mexico, Russia was responsible for much of the global increase of silver supply in 2012. Polymetal International (LSE:POLY) is the country’s greatest producer of the metal. In 2012, its output was 26.5 million ounces, according to the Silver Institute.
Mine production: 41.2 million ounces
Poland is home to the largest silver-producing company in the world, KGHM Polska Miedz (OTCMKTS:KGHPF). In 2012, KGHM’s output reached 41 million ounces. Poland overall contains the second-largest silver reserves in the world, at 85,000 tons, as per the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 39.7 million ounces
Bolivia hosts 22,000 tons of silver. Most of the nation’s supply of the commodity is found in conjunction with tin. Sumitomo (TSE:8053) is the primary silver company in Bolivia, with an output of 13, million ounces in 2012. Its subsidiary, Minera San Cristobal, operates the San Cristobal silver mine, which is a top-producing asset.
Mine production: 37 million ounces
The South American country saw one of the biggest declines in silver production during 2012, according to Neil Meader, head of precious metals research and forecasts at Reuters. When combined with the United States, the two nations lost 7.4 million ounces of production of the metal last year. Chile’s total silver reserves are 70,000 tons, the third largest in the world.
Mine production: 32.6 million ounces
As mentioned, silver output in the United States dropped in 2012. The country has 25,000 tons of the precious metal. Coeur d’Alene Mines (NYSE:CDE) is the largest primary silver producer in the United States and had the ninth greatest output in 2012, with 18, million ounces.
Mine production: 24.1 million ounces
Argentina’s silver reserves are too small to be reported by the US Geological Survey, but in 2012 its Pirquitas mine, operated by Silver Standard Resources (TSX:SSO), had the fifth largest production of all global assets, at 8.6 million ounces.