Commodities & Metals

A Platinum Cartel in the Works

Platinum bars
Source: Thinkstock
Platinum prices have fallen nearly 10% from their 2013 highs in early February. Palladium prices are off as well, but the drop is just 3.6%. This is not good for South Africa, which produces about 70% of the world’s platinum, or Russia, which produces about 40% of the world’s palladium. So the two nations have decided to do something about it.

According to a report at Bloomberg News, South Africa and Russia have signed a framework document under which the two countries will form an OPEC-style cartel to coordinate exports of the two metals. Other producers of the metals include Canada, Zimbabwe and the United States, where Stillwater Mining Co. (NYSE: SWC) operates the only U.S. platinum and palladium mine.

Stillwater is currently in a battle with The Clinton Group, a hedge fund that owns about 1% of Stillwater’s stock and has offered a full slate of candidates for the miner’s board of directors. The dissidents want Stillwater’s CEO to leave and to sell some properties the company bought in Argentina and Canada.

While the idea for the cartel is to bolster prices for the minerals, in the longer run supply has to realign with demand in order to push prices up. Recent labor troubles at South African mines have cut supplies somewhat, but that has not curtailed the price slide that is a function of lower demand from automakers, the primary users of the two minerals. More recycling and falling demand for new cars in Europe have lowered the demand for platinum and palladium, keeping a lid on prices, except for a short spurt at the beginning of this year.

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