A Break in the PGM Supply Chain

March 26th, 2014
in gold

by Byron King, Daily Reckoning

In the past two months, strikes in South Africa have crippled the top three platinum players, and knocked 40% off of expected global PGM (platinum group metals) output. Thus, forward-thinking investors - and potential project partners - are looking for new PGM deposits far from current turmoil.

Meanwhile, due to the South Africa strikes, short term - meaning "now" - PGM stockpiles are quickly declining. By the end of March (yes, this month), absolute shortages will kick in across numerous industries. Prices will begin to climb, affecting supply chains across the world. Platinum is shining, in a manner of speaking...

Follow up:

On the one hand, the looming shortage of PGM, and impending price movement, will benefit investors who hold physical metal or even ETFs like Sprott Physical Platinum & Palladium Trust (NYSE:SPPP). This play holds physical metal that's on deposit in vaults in Canada and Great Britain, and basically tracks PGM pricing. There's no vaporware with SPPP.

Commodity Price Forecast for 2014 Relative to the Current Price

Looking out to the long term, however, global industry needs new supply. That, and investors want new PGM plays in politically safe jurisdictions. That's where the spotlight is shining.

Here's something else to consider, as South Africa stews. The "other" major source of PGM, for the global market, besides South Africa, is Russia.

Russia, as you surely know, is in the news due to the situation in Ukraine. There's talk, in Western political circles, of slapping political and/or economic sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine situation.

If Russia gets hit with sanctions, there's no telling how it could affect PGM supplies, or the merchant banking that supports paying for exports; let alone how Russia might respond - with reverse-embargoes of its own, or such. All sorts of things are possible.

Right now, I can't predict if the U.S. and/or European Union (EU) will slap sanctions on Russia, or the details of how things will work out. Our Western politicians come across, to me, as essentially clueless and terribly ignorant of history and strategy.

I'm inclined to think that, before too much damage occurs, cooler heads will prevail. That large Western PGM users - auto companies, chemical manufacturers, glass-makers, etc., who accelerated their platinum purchases throughout 2013 (see below) - will "explain" the facts of life to the politicians. Of course, they'll have to use short, simple words, and speak very slowly to the politicians, but that's another discussion.

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Still, the whole issue of Russia and sanctions creates uncertainty over the future supply chain for PGM. Again, the long-term solution is to develop deposits closer to home.

Platinum Sales on Shanghai Gold Exchange

According to investment bank Scotia-Mocatta, the near and medium-term outlook for platinum "looks robust, as supply is struggling to keep up with noninvestment demand, which means that even a relatively small amount of investment can cause a supply deficit." Long term, the field is wide open.

As you may know, nothing happens fast in the world of mining, let alone in the world of building mines. In general, things take years to unfold fully. But the fact is that there's a growing scramble for new sources of PGM supply, both within South Africa - because that's where the world's largest confirmed resource is located - and outside, in more favorable jurisdictions.

I'm looking for more good news for PGM investors, at every level. Near term, we have looming shortages. Medium term, there's the issue of South African strikes, and uncertainty over Russian supply. Long term, the West will have to develop its own security of supply chain. You can invest in this, and make money over the long haul.

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