Platinum may be bright spot in 2014 as surpluses pressure commods

Mon Dec 30, 2013 8:36pm IST

* Platinum, palladium supply at risk in South Africa

* Zinc, lead, tin could also register shortages

* Surpluses to weigh on other commodity markets

By Eric Onstad

LONDON, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Nimble investors may find pockets of outperformance next year in platinum group metals (PGMs) and selected industrial metals while abundant supplies weigh down most other commodities.

Platinum and palladium are due to struggle with potential mine closures amid labour trouble in South Africa while zinc, tin and lead could face regional shortages.

The opportunities may be short-lived so investors will have to be quick-witted to squeeze out profits, said analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov at VTB Capital.

"Market participants will have to be extremely vigilant, flexible and dynamic in their decision-making, aiming to benefit from mostly short-term seasonal trades," he said.

Broad commodity indices are likely to underperform again as surpluses burden oil, grains and metals such as copper and nickel.

The Thomson Reuters/Core Commodity CRB index, which tracks 19 commodities, has shed nearly 4 percent this year, the third straight year of losses. In 2014, it is due to underperform stocks again as the latter benefit from strong company earnings, analysts and fund managers said.

MSCI's all-country world equity index is up 20 percent this year and the U.S. S&P 500 index has surged 32 percent.

LONG PGMS/SHORT GOLD

Many analysts and fund managers expect more labour problems in South Africa. The country accounts for about three-quarters of global output of platinum, mainly used for jewellery and in catalytic converters to clean vehicle exhaust fumes.

"We're positive on the PGMs because ... the three largest platinum producers in South Africa, they've still yet to renegotiate those (labour) contracts," analyst Sudakshina Unnikrishnan at Barclays said.

"Any sort of supply risk we think is likely to be the catalyst to push prices higher."

Barclays is advising clients to place relative value trades in precious metals, taking long positions in platinum and palladium while going short gold.

Gold is expected to post more losses in 2014 after falling out of favour with investors, who have been liquidating holdings of an asset that has lost its safe-haven appeal.

A huge outflow of physical gold holdings from exchange-traded products (ETPs) has hit gold, which this year is set to post its biggest annual loss in three decades - some 28 percent - as it ends a 12-year bull run.

"We do not expect to see a repeat of the rapid outflows that occurred during the first half of the year, but with 1,820 tonnes of gold still held by physically backed ETPs, there remains substantial scope for further divestment," said Nic Brown, head of commodities research at Natixis in London.

ZINC, LEAD, TIN

Other potential bright spots in commodities include zinc, lead and tin, which analysts said could also encounter supply problems.

"Zinc should continue to see modest deficits with mined supply lagging," analyst Grant Sporre at Deutsche Bank said in a note. "Based solely on the annual supply-demand balances, we think that zinc and lead remain the most attractive."

Again, the safest way to play the market is through relative value trades, several analysts said.

Metals strategist Stephen Briggs at BNP Paribas suggests taking a short position in copper due to expected surpluses versus a long position in a basket of zinc, lead and tin.

Broad commodity indices are expected to be sluggish again next year, as global growth is seen as insufficient to offset expected surpluses in many sectors, including oil and grains.

"There is a pattern in commodities where returns don't tend to become very strong until there's been a decent period of demand growth that enables any excess inventory or spare capacity to be drawn down," said Kevin Norrish, head of commodities research at Barclays in London.

Global economic growth is expected to rise modestly to 3.5 percent in 2014 from 2.9 percent this year, according to a Reuters poll in October.

Surging supplies are expected to push North Sea Brent crude down to an average of $103.50 per barrel in 2014, from this year's average around $109, according to analysts polled by Reuters this month.

Bumper corn and soybean harvests have weighed on grains prices and more weakness is seen in 2014.

"We expect the balance of risks tilting to the bearish side in the agri commodity space, continuing the trend seen in 2013," Macquarie said in a note. (Editing by Dale Hudson)

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