palladium price

It looks as though the winter is just heating up for the Global Precious Monthly Metals Index (MMI).

The sub-index tracking a basket of gold, silver, platinum and palladium prices from four different geographies rose three points to hit 90 for the January reading — a 3.4% increase — driven by a still-hot palladium price.

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The U.S. palladium bar price broke the 1,200-per-ounce barrier to start the month, ending at $1,252 per ounce to begin 2019. That represents a three-month uptrend. Meanwhile, the gold price reclaimed its premium over palladium, settling at $1,282 per ounce to begin the month.

U.S. silver also rose, while platinum dropped in the U.S. and Japan.

Palladium Outlook Looking Even Better With Hybrid Vehicle Demand

As we wrote last month, while supply from major producers including Russia and South Africa is not growing, global automotive palladium demand is expected to achieve a new record high in 2018 of around 8.5 million ounces, according to precious metals consultancy Metals Focus as reported by Reuters.

That conspires for the high price bubble of the formerly junior PGM of late. However, that may not last.

“This increases the potential for correction,” Commerzbank is quoted as stating in a recent outlook report. “We expect a price correction [for palladium] to begin in the course of the first quarter of 2019.”

After correcting, the bank expects the price should to “resume its upswing,” forecasting a price of $1,100 per troy ounce by the end of 2019, it is quoted as saying.

Other analysts agree with that general take, but that doesn’t mean that the longer-term demand outlook isn’t still strong.

According to Anton Berlin, head of analysis and market development at Norilsk Nickel PJSC, as quoted by Bloomberg, “combined palladium use in hybrid and plug-in hybrid — or rechargeable — vehicles next year will be nearly triple that of 2016.”

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Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. agree. “Hybrids are forecast to grow from just 3 percent of global market share in 2016 to 23 percent of sales by 2025,” stated a late-2018 report by the bank, according to Bloomberg.

Our Global Precious Metals MMI inched up a point in April. However, this year the index seems to be struggling near 84 points. Let’s take a look at gold and palladium, two of the precious metals integrated in this index, to better understand the ongoing trend in precious metals.

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Gold

Some analysts are saying that gold is up this year on its safe haven appeal due to rising geopolitical instability. But that’s simply not true. Otherwise, we would see it reflected in stock market indexes, which are trading at record highs. Not only the U.S. but also Europe, China and other emerging markets are seeing their stock markets hit multi-year highs. Investors are confident about the prospects for the global economy, and until something proves them wrong, gold is lacking any appeal as a safe haven.

Gold CME contract. Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com

If you held gold this year, don’t thank rising political tensions; simply thank a weaker dollar and some dip buying. This year’s rally in gold follows a 18% price slump in Q4 of last year. But prices are back to their average and just 8% below $1,380/oz, a level that has been a ceiling to gold prices for four consecutive years. This means that investors will have to find good reasons to chase prices higher. Given the ongoing strength across global stock markets and the rather neutral picture of the dollar, we wouldn’t expect gold investors to get a good return on their money for the balance of the year.

Palladium

As I’ve written earlier on MetalMiner, “palladium prices rose to a two-year high in April, making it the biggest gainer among precious metals. Last month we outlined some of the factors contributing to the palladium price rise: a growing auto sector; a strong South African currency; a falling dollar; and bullish sentiment across industrial metals. However, as prices continue to climb, it’s time to question how high prices can go. Despite a still solid outlook, there are some reasons to believe palladium prices could be nearing their peak.”

One of them is a potential slowdown in demand for cars. U.S. car sales declined in April, following a disappointing month of March. Markets suspect that the car industry boom that has run since 2010 has now come to an end.

Meanwhile in China, car sales are still going strong, but the pace is not the same as last year. As I wrote before, “weaker sales tax incentives have put pressure on demand this year and are expected to slow down demand even more next year. Buyers of cars with engines up to 1.6 liters paid a 5% purchase tax last year, but they are now paying a 7.5% rate. Buyers are still finding incentives to rush on buying cars this year since the rate will increase to 10% in 2018.”

Palladium nears long-term resistance levels. Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com data

Finally, as with the case of gold, palladium might need the stronger fundamentals to lure investors to chase prices higher. Historically, palladium has peaked in the range of $850-$900. Prices closed in April at $827.

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What This Means For Metal Buyers

Precious metals gained this year, but gains won’t come easily from now onwards. The opportunity to buy or invest in precious metals might have passed by.

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Palladium has been the best performer among precious metals for some time now. Since the beginning of 2016, palladium is up 65%, easily beating the price increases seen in platinum, gold and silver.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

What factors made palladium outperform its peers and what should palladium buyers pay attention to this year?

Global Demand for Cars

According to Inside Advantage’s Outlook 2016 report, “the primary bullish factor might be the expansion of auto catalyst demand for palladium, particularly in China where air pollution problems are increasing. The auto sector accounts for around 80% of palladium demand.”

Chinese car sales for the first two months of 2017 beat expectations and were 8.8% higher compared to the same period in 2016. According to a Market Watch report, the pace is still weaker than the 14% increase reported last year by the industry as tax incentives urged customers to buy cars. In Q4 of 2016, China announced a 50% cut in its sales tax from 10% to 5% for small automobiles. The tax cut was effective until the end of 2016.

Most analysts were expecting a big slowdown in the largest automobile market this year, but China continues to surprise markets. The country agreed to extend the cut, although at a higher rate of 7.5%. In 2018 it will revert to 10%. Therefore, while auto sales might not beat the high levels reached last year, Chinese citizens will still likely take advantage of a lower tax in 2017.

According to a recent Reuters article, “March’s figures for the world’s second-largest automotive market came in below market expectations and gave early evidence that the growth in America’s car sales may be running out of steam. Sales in March fell by 1.6% compared with the same month a year ago.”

Overall, auto markets were really strong in 2016, contributing to a 50% rise in palladium prices last year. This market might surprise again in 2017 but signs of a plateau in the U.S. and uncertainties in China due to an extended but higher tax cut are factors to watch this year.

Strong South African Currency

South African Rand Index. Source:MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

South Africa is the largest producer of palladium, and controls around 40% of world output. The Rand (South African currency) has been one of the best performing currencies since 2016. A rising Rand makes South African exports more expensive to the rest of the world, limiting producers margins and potentially leading to a reduction of output. Read more

Automakers sold 1.33 million vehicles in the U.S. in February, down 1.1% from the same month a year ago, as consumers continued to shift away from buying cars in favor of trucks and SUVs.

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Our Automotive MMI fell 4.3% as well, due in part to a pull back this month in steel prices, particularly the hot-dipped galvanized variety. There’s been plenty of analysis on our site about whether the steel price fall is merely a pause in an overall up trend or a sign of deeper issues in the individual North American product markets.

Automotive MMI

If major automotive products such as cold-rolled coil and HDG are, indeed, being squeezed then prices could increase quickly in the coming months as mills take advantage of short supply, even if more capacity comes online later in the year.

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The other products that make up the index are still firmly in bull market territory with copper leading the way.

The other major automotive consumer market that creates supplier demand is China’s, the world’s largest automotive market. It saw auto sales decline by 1.1% year-on-year in January to 2.2 million units. Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, however, came in 0.2% higher year-on-year to 2.5 million units. Some of these numbers could be affected by the Lunar New Year holiday. China is also entering the planned final year of a major government automotive purchase rebate which could affect sales as the incentive winds down.

Actual Automotive Metal Prices

U.S. Hot-dipped galvanized steel fell 1.5% from $841 a short ton in February to $828/st this month. U.S. Platinum bars increased 2.92% from $993 an ounce in February to $1,022 an ounce this month. Primary three-month LME copper increased .08% from $5,930 per metric ton in February to $5.935/mt this month.

 

We warned last month that the mostly small losses the prices our MetalMiner IndX experienced were caused by investors taking profits.

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Our suspicions were confirmed when almost all of our sub-indexes had big price rebounds this month. The Automotive MMI jumped 12.2% Raw Steels 8% and Aluminum 6%. Even our Stainless Steel MMI only dropped 1.7% and has taken off since February 1 as nickel supply is even more in question now with both the Philippines and Indonesia’s raw ore exports in question.

The bull market is on for the entire industrial metals complex. Last month’s pause was necessary for markets to digest gains but the strong positive sentiment for both manufacturing and construction shows no signs of ebbing in the U.S. and Chinese markets.

MetalMiner’s index of global precious metals prices dropped yet again this month, falling 3.8% for a January 2017 reading of 76, down from 79 in December.

Key Precious Metal Movers

The U.S. palladium price got a bit too frothy last month, resulting in a December MMI reading of $768 — which was good enough for an 18-month high.

However, for the January MMI reading, that price experienced a pullback, dipping back down under $700 per ounce (although not quite reaching November’s levels).

So a correction in that price point’s journey is evident. The U.S. platinum bar price also had a slight drop-off, as did silver and gold prices across global markets tracked by the MetalMiner IndX.

What’s Happened Since October?

Short answer: a ton.

Trump. Cubs. Brexit. Syria. Refugee crises. Panama Papers. Pokemon Go. (We could keep going…)

But a few of those had a lot to do with what’s happening across precious metals markets right now — especially gold.

Gold in Focus

What’s causing gold prices to fall dramatically? The U.S. dollar.

Gold (in dark) vs the dollar index (in green)

Gold (in dark) vs the dollar index (in green). Source: MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com.

Since mid-August the dollar started a bull run that is still in play. Three main factors are propelling the dollar’s bull run, according to MetalMiner’s Raul de Frutos:

Markets expected the Federal Reserve to raise rates by the end of the year. In December the Fed raised interest rates by a quarter point, as expected, but policymakers signaled a likelihood of three increases in 2017, up from prior expectations for two moves. While interest rates outside the U.S. stay near zero or even in negative territory, it’s no wonder yield-seeking investors are going after the greenback.

The ongoing political tensions in Europe are causing the dollar to appreciate against the euro. The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Brexit, terrorist attacks and political instability are some of the events causing investors to lose their appetite for the European currency this year.

Finally, the victory of Donald Trump has added fuel to the dollar’s bull market. The new president-elect has proposed new tax policies that will potentially make multinational companies bring their foreign profits back to U.S., increasing the demand for dollars. In addition, the dollar is perceived as a stronger currency since investors expect growth in US to get a boost.

Essentially, what we wrote last month is still holding true, and it’s hard to see a reversal in the near term.

Exact Precious Metals Prices, Movements:

 

After hitting an all-time low in December 2015 – dipping down into the 60s – the Global Precious Metals MMI rebounded a bit and is now hovering at 70 for the second consecutive month.

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Of the three heaviest-weighted metal price points within this precious sub-index, gold bullion in both the U.S. in China, and silver ingot/bars in the U.S. all increased over the the last month, the primary drivers buoying the February MMI reading.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_February-2016_FNL

Gold Price Outlook

The longer-term outlook, though, may not be all that rosy for gold prices. “Despite talks of China and Russia buying gold, I still see main factors such as a strong [U.S.] dollar and a bear commodity market keeping a lid on gold prices,” Raul de Frutos, metals procurement specialist for MetalMiner, told me. “The price rally seen in January is way too small to consider that something is changing in the long-term picture.”

“I still have a neutral/bearish view on gold,” he concluded.

The Bigger Price Story: Palladium Downtrend

However, in a more interesting trend on the industrial metals side of the precious sector, two of the PGM price points we track on the MetalMiner IndX – for U.S. platinum and palladium bars – dropped 1.7% and 8.1% (!), respectively.

The U.S. palladium price has ticked up for a few days in a row since we took our MMI reading on Feb. 1, but it’s lost a whopping 26.3% in value since the beginning of November 2015.

So what’s going on in the palladium market?

The recent stock market selloff in China, which caused global tumult, is the real culprit hurting both palladium and platinum. A strong dollar is not helping matters, either.

Compare Prices With The January 2016 MMI Report

Strong car sales globally – in Europe, China and the U.S., with the latter two hitting all-time highs – did not correspond with stronger performances for platinum and palladium prices.

Despite analysts calling again for deficits in palladium and platinum markets this year, Raul has written that “it’s hard to imagine these two metals rising while China keeps driving everything down.”

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Gather round, folks, dead-cat bounces for all

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And this month’s Global Precious Metals MMI was no exception – after hitting yet another all-time low of 68 last month, the sub-index bounced back up to 70 for our January reading.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_January-2016_FNL

As for the dead-cat bounce, the Aluminum MMI had what looked like one, my colleague Raul writes:

“Aluminum has declined more than 30% on the year-to-date. A 3% increase after such a price slump means nothing. Indeed, aluminum producers should be worried that prices are not able to make a decent rally from these low levels. That only means that investors are only interested in selling, not buying.”

The steel markets, too:

“Although steel prices took a break from their year-long fall in December, there are still many factors weighing down prices. It seems too early to bet on a recovery in prices. For corrosion-resistant steel buyers, the effects of the new import duties are certainly something to watch.”

And even the Copper MMI had a tiny one too, (stay tuned for that story, coming next week).

So, alongside the baby-sized Fed interest rate hike came a bit of a bounce for our precious metals price index. Welcome to the party.

The Platinum/Palladium Story

Putting aside gold and silver for now (global prices for which, on balance, fell for silver but rose for gold on the MetalMiner IndX), let’s focus again on the more industrial of the precious – the two PGMs we track.

As far as bigger end-use drivers go, the automotive markets have made most of the headlines lately. In China, car sales rose to the highest level ever, increasing in December by more than 23% from November 2014. That is the second consecutive month in which China’s passenger car sales grew by double digits. Here in the US, data from Ward’s Automotive Group shows 1.63 million vehicles were sold in December last year, making this the strongest month of 2015. In all of 2015, sales totaled 17.38 million, which exceeds the previous record high from 2000.

Producers like Johnson Matthey may have reason to look forward to 2016.

Compare Prices With The December MMI Report

Low gas prices, an improving labor market and low interest rates, “coupled with a solid U.S. economy, could also make 2016 a year of robust vehicle sales,” noted Commerzbank analysts recently. “This should boost platinum and palladium, which are used in auto catalysts; palladium in particular should profit because the U.S. market is gasoline-dominated.”

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After hitting a new all-time low last month, the monthly Global Precious Metals MMI® bounced back up a bit to catch its breath, and registered a value of 76 in September, an increase of 2.7% from 74 in August.

So What’s At Play? Gold Prices and Fed Hikes?

Yesterday, Reuters reported that spot gold prices lost more ground, after drifting downward the past several days.

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The precious metal was “hurt by a stronger dollar and as investors awaited a key US jobs report to gauge the timing of a Federal Reserve rate hike” – however, the global stock market [expletive]-show that has been rocking investor confidence lately may just be the only thing the Fed needs to go through with the hike.Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_September-2015_FNL

(Besides, ADP‘s private-sector jobs report, released this past Wednesday, betrays severe underperformance – fewer than 200,000 jobs have been added in 6 of the last 8 months, as mentioned here.)

Gold Drivers

The gold price points from each of the 4 global markets we track (the US, China, Japan and India) all rose over the past month, and along with platinum increases in Japan, China and the US, were the main drivers of the wholesale increase in the Global Precious Metals MMI®. That’s likely due to the fact that equities markets have been doing so poorly – no, heinously – from China to the Dow.

So, on the face of it, gold was a factor in the global precious index’s rise…but let’s turn attention to the historical lows of palladium.

“No. 2” PGM More of a Concern

Palladium, platinum’s cheaper and less scarce cousin, hit another bottom. The US price of palladium bars tracked on the MetalMiner IndX℠ clocked in at $600 per ounce (log in or join as a MetalMiner member at the bottom of this article to get full pricing to all the precious metals we track) – the lowest since November 2012.

As my colleague Jeff Yoders wrote recently, although US auto markets appear robust at the moment, there is uncertainty in China and correspondingly lower auto sales there. Chinese auto sales fell by 7.10% in July 2015 compared to July 2014, the largest fall since February 2013.

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Which won’t bode too well for catalytic converter sales, hence for PGM demand – and prices.

 

US auto sales remain the bright spot in the drivers of the monthly Automotive MMI®.

The Real Steel Story

Seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales for light vehicles rose to 17.8 million compared with 17.3 million a year earlier and was the highest since July 2005, according to researcher Autodata Corp. August was the fourth consecutive month that adjusted sales remained above the 17 million mark.

Automotive August-2015The Automotive MMI® still registered only a value of 73 in September, a decrease of 3.9% from 76 in August. Weak prices for most of the base metals that make up the index (HDG, copper, aluminum and lead) abound despite strong end user sales in the US. In China, auto sales are falling with the rest of the domestic economy there.

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China Again

Chinese auto sales fell by 7.10% in July 2015 compared to July 2014, the largest fall since February 2013 and such a large economy’s fall is dragging down the prices of automotive metals just as it is dragging down the prices of oil and other commodities.

Major iron ore producers, Rio Tinto PLC, BHP Billiton, Vale SA and Fortescue Metals Group Limited have ramped up production again despite massive iron ore and steel oversupply. Zacks.com believes they intend to continue exploring for iron ore in Australia despite lower growth forecasts from China and weaker iron ore prices, betting on continued strength in iron ore demand over the long term.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

This is normal behavior from major miners such as the Big Three (Rio, BHP and Vale) and almost-there cousin Fortescue. They can make a profit by squeezing volume out of their mines at low prices based on scale, alone, but iron ore investment is coming from non-traditional miners, as well.

India’s Essar Steel is making a $1.9 billion investment in the steelmaking ingredient in Minnesota, of all places. It’s difficult to imagine how such an investment makes long-term sense for Essar without a turnaround in both iron ore and steel prices. Since high-strength automotive steel alloys are one of the best-performing steel products on today’s market, it’s even more difficult to imagine those prices turning around without continued strong auto sales in the US and Europe and a turnaround in China and other emerging markets.

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This Month’s Prices and Trends

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