March 21, 2018 / 2:49 PM / a month ago

Minor precious metals rhodium, ruthenium, iridium hit multi-year highs

LONDON, March 21 (Reuters) - Rhodium prices rallied to a near seven-year peak, ruthenium to its highest since 2010 and iridium to its strongest in five years on Wednesday as rising industrial demand squeezed prices of the minor precious metals higher.

Rhodium RHOD-LON, four out of five ounces of which are used in autocatalyst manufacturing, climbed 2 percent to $1,975 an ounce, its highest since June 2011. Its prices have rallied 30 percent since the start of the year.

Mitsubishi analyst Jonathan Butler said the metal had benefited from strong Chinese demand as new emissions legislation came into force

“China moved onto Euro V equivalent (emissions standards) nationwide last year, and that meant an uplift in loadings of both rhodium and palladium across the vehicle fleet,” he said. “Plus, car sales did not do too badly overall. Those things together clearly led to a good deal of interest in rhodium.”

Rhodium’s strength contrasted with a soft performance from platinum, which has risen just 2 percent this year on concerns that a move away from diesel engines will curb demand.

Ruthenium RUTH-LON, a platinum group metal chiefly used in alloys and as a catalyst in industrial processes, rose to $208 an ounce on Wednesday, up 2.4 percent from the previous day and at its highest in nearly eight years.

Its sister metal iridium IRID-LON hit $1,010 an ounce, a five-year peak. Its prices have risen more than 5 percent since mid February.

Peter Duncan, general manager for market research at speciality chemical company Johnson Matthey, said demand for both metals from industrial users had been robust. The relatively small size of their markets meant this could have a disproportionate effect on prices, he said.

“Demand for ruthenium at the moment is very strong across all areas, particularly the chemical sector, and supply is very tight as well,” he said. “For the minor metals at the moment, both markets are quite tight.”

Ruthenium demand climbed 9 percent last year to 1.204 million ounces, its highest since 2006. Its prices more than quadrupled in the same period, from $38 an ounce at the end of 2016 to $188 an ounce.

One minor metals trader said good demand had been seen from the water treatment industry in China, which uses the metal in catalysts. Rising prices had caused more industrial users to lock in supply of the metal, the trader added.

Iridium was in a small deficit last year, Duncan said. The metal is used in the chemicals industry in processes such as chlorine production, as well as in crucibles for growing crystals for mobile phones, and in ignition technology, such as spark plugs.

Crucible demand was particularly strong last year, according to one trader. Iridium consumption rose 2 percent to its highest since 2011 at 264,000 ounces last year, Johnson Matthey said.

In a report last week, precious metals trading house Heraeus flagged up new research showing “a major potential use for iridium” in artificial photosynthesis.

Johnson Matthey said it was tracking the technology, but believed it was some way off creating meaningful demand for the metal.

Reporting by Jan Harvey Editing by Mark Potter

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