Special Report 1hr
Precious Metals - November 2013
When considering investment in precious metals initial thoughts immediately stray to gold and silver, both of which have suffered in 2013.
Gold, traditionally seen as a safe haven, has seen its price drop from $1,693.75 an ounce on January 2 to just $1,349.25 per ounce on October 29, a fall of roughly $344 year-to-date.
Silver has also seen falls, although the lower price means the decline has not been quite as dramatic, with prices slipping from $30.87 per ounce at the start of the year to $22.31 per ounce.
In terms of investing in physical metals, there are some alternatives such as platinum and palladium, a growing market albeit mainly served by exchange traded funds (ETFs).
Platinum has also suffered with a falling price year-to-date and a drop of roughly $100 an ounce from $1,566 in January to $1,466 in October, according to data from Kitco.com.
Palladium, however, is the only precious metal which has recorded a gain so far this year, of roughly $33 an ounce, as its price moved from $711 to $744.
In terms of demand, however, investment is very much a secondary driver for both of these alternatives.
Palladium is mainly in demand for manufacturing catalytic converters for cars and electrical components, while platinum is also driven by catalytic converters and jewellery, according to figures from precious metal refiner Johnson Matthey.
Both platinum and palladium saw demand outstrip supply in 2012, supporting strong prices. However while there have been mining disruptions in South Africa that have helped boost these metals in the second half of the year, the US Federal Reserve’s tapering announcement in May affected prices.
In the September price report on platinum group metals (PGM) Johnson Matthey stated: “Early support for platinum and palladium prices came from the Syrian crisis and the start of a pay strike on the South African gold mines by members of the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers).
“The platinum price was then largely governed by a falling gold price, which suffered from a slight easing of international tensions over Syria, and speculator anticipation of perhaps a more hawkish monetary stance from the US Federal Reserve.”
Elsewhere, for investors playing precious metals in a wider context through miners, there are some precious metals used in industrial productions that can be easily overlooked, such as rhodium, iridium and ruthenium.
Rhodium is a more mainstream metal than the other two, with uses across industrial applications such as catalytic converters, chemical and electrical components and processes. Demand for rhodium has been steadily recovering in the past five years after hitting a peak in 2007, while production has been relatively steady, keeping in line with demand. In the course of the year Rhodium prices have slipped from $1,080 per ounce in January to $980, although the metal did hit a high of $1,265 in March as demand from buyers pushed the price higher before dropping back.
Iridium and ruthenium, meanwhile have very niche applications – iridium is used among other things as a coating for specialist spark plugs, while ruthenium is used in the manufacturing of hard disks.
Figures from Johnson Matthey shows the iridium price in 2013 has more than halved from $1,050 per ounce in January to $500 an ounce in October.
This may be a combination of declining demand – 2012 was the lowest level of demand since 2009 – as it has limited uses. As with most other precious metals, excluding palladium, ruthenium has also seen a drop in price from $90 an ounce to $57, in spite of its wider commercial use.
While demand for these lesser known platinum group metals are currently limited, with new applications for these beginning to emerge alongside new technologies, who is to say these won’t be the precious metals of the future, trading alongside platinum, gold and silver.
Nyree Stewart is deputy features editor at Investment Adviser
Platinum group metals
This is used in autocatalysts, with demand likely to grow as emission standards require more sophisticated catalysts. It is also used in the production of nitric acid and combined with Platinum to create the vessels to hold molten liquid in glass manufacturing.
One use for this metal is in the production of hard disks, as the demand for digital data storage continues to grow. According to Johnson Matthey, the amount of platinum and ruthenium required to produce these storage devices has increased rapidly over the years as storage densities have increased to meet demand.
This is the preferred material for crucibles because of its high melting point. The crucibles are used for growing high-purity single crystals of various metal oxides, which are then used in a range of applications. These include medical scanners, which are used in the diagnosis of tumours, as well as crystals in x-ray scanners.
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