Monday, April 17, 2006

Metals action and notes on palladium

Tuesday's update: June gold was up $4.50 to close at $623.30 an ounce, according to a recent CBS Marketwatch update.

Gold hit 25 year highs in Asian trading on Tuesday. June gold closed at $618.80 in Monday's session on the Comex in New York. Here's a bit of what appeared in a Bloomberg story on commodities Monday:

Gold for June delivery rose $18.70 to $618.80 an ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, after reaching $619.30. The 3.1 percent gain was the biggest since Sept. 14, 2001, the first day of trading after the terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, silver keeps defying expectations and has extended its move above the $12 area. May silver was up 51 cents to close at $13.365 an ounce. Platinum closed Monday at $1,120.10 an ounce, and palladium was up $12.95 to close at $362.45.

Monday was definitely a standout day for the precious metals. I'm very interested to see how this recent move in palladium plays out. There's been some very good momentum building up for the metal, as it seems to be slowly climbing out of its post 2000 doldrums.

Widely regarded as an industrial metal, palladium's role as an autocatalyst provided a demand backdrop for the supply shortage that fueled its 2000-2001 price spike. At that time palladium was priced higher than its complementary metal, platinum, leading many manufacturers to return to platinum as their emission control ingredient of choice. An atmosphere of shortage soon gave way to one of oversupply as shipments from Russia were resumed and palladium stockpiles were liquidated. Palladium prices soon sunk back below platinum prices, and the discount persists today at a 3:1 ratio in favor of platinum.

Palladium use in autocatalysts seems to be coming back and increasing especially among North American manufacturers. In addition to its role in emissions control, there are more applications for palladium on the horizon. Palladium's potential as a water treatment agent, particularly in the area of groundwater contamination, is being further explored.

Jewelry demand can now be added to the growing list of uses for palladium. I was interested to learn not too long ago that palladium has long been used as jewelry in certain parts of Asia. I wondered if this trend would soon extend to American markets, and it seems that this may take place sooner rather than later.

These trends seem to be driving a resurgence in palladium demand. Will they move the price of palladium higher over time, narrowing the price discount to platinum?