Both are substances critical to the auto industry and in short supply compared to most commodities. But one is also the world’s most valuable metal.
The question is: will platinum catch up with the dizzying heights attained by its sister metal palladium?
It’s crucial to ask because New York-traded futures of platinum, the metal used in purifying diesel emissions, have fallen in five of the last six sessions, hitting a 5-month low of $785.55 per ounce.
Palladium, used in the catalytic converters of gasoline-powered cars, meanwhile, settled on Tuesday at $1,379.05 an ounce in U.S. futures trade, not far from the all-time highs of $1,397.40 set on Jan. 17. Its spot price has gone even higher, scaling $1,404.05 in the previous session, after a record high of $1,440.35 on Jan. 17.
But with platinum trading at just about half of those levels, and below its 20- and 100-day moving averages, investors in precious metals are reluctant to have that metal in their portfolio in case it slips lower.
Technical analysts at Investing.com have a “Strong Sell” call on U.S. platinum futures, pegging support as low as $778.41 per ounce—not far from Tuesday’s settlement of $789.60.
That prompts people like Mike Seery, commodities technical chartist and founder of Seery Futures in Plainfield, Illinois, to think that platinum has bottomed for now. Said Seery:
“I will not recommend a short position as I think the downside is very limited as prices topped out around the $835 level. A double top chart pattern also developed in that time. ”
For South African producers, the rally in palladium is partially offsetting the slump in platinum prices to near a decade low.
The decline in the rand, which lowers costs for miners selling metal for dollars, has also extended a lifeline to South African platinum miners. The Dollar Index, which pits the greenback against six major currencies, hit 7-week highs last week, weighing on most competing currencies, including the rand, and aiding the operations of miners such as Impala Platinum (JO:IMPJ), Sibanye Gold (NYSE:SBGL) and Lonmin (LON:LMI).
Julius Baer commodity strategist Carsten Menke is another analyst with a positive view on platinum, due to the spillover effects from the palladium rally. Menke was quoted saying by Bloomberg last week:
“While the outlook for SA’s platinum industry is uncertain, we do not believe it is as bleak as perceived, at least for some producers.”
Morgan Stanley analyst Christopher Nicholson was also quoted saying that high palladium prices, linked to a market that is projected to remain in deficit until around 2024, may eventually encourage vehicle makers to switch to platinum, which is now largely confined to diesel cars.
The demand forecast for 2019, however, assumes no significant substitution of palladium by platinum in gasoline auto-catalysts, despite the gap between the two reaching about $600 an ounce.
But concerns about tightening palladium supply argue strongly for automakers to consider a partial switch at least in the long run. That aside, challenges remain for platinum as well in the automotive sector as European diesel appetite continues to decline on negative consumer sentiment, driven partly by uncertainty over diesel car restrictions.
While automotive demand may be slow, growth in other demand segments—including jewelry and industrial applications such as glass manufacturing, petroleum manufacturing and medical and biomedical use—remains robust, analysts say.
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