Well, there's good news and bad news this morning out of London. Spot platinum gained $4.25, to $1,485 an ounce in this morning's fixing, in what seems to be a run-up to a challenge of the metal's record price of $1,488.50 set earlier this month.
That's the good news. If you're a bull.
The bad news is that this price rise was wrought by mining accidents, strikes and stoppages in South Africa, the world's largest producer.
Fresh concerns about supplies of the white metal are being fanned by the prospect of a new strike, too. South African miners may walk out on December 4 to protest safety regulations in the wake of a number of fatal accidents. A South African government mediator is expected to decide today if the National Union of Mineworkers can in fact proceed with the work stoppage.
According to refiner Johnson Matthey Ltd., platinum supplies are already expected to fall 265,000 ounces short of demand this year because of reduced South African output. A new strike would likely cause platinum's price to spiral further upward.
Platinum is one of the world's rarest metals, more scarce than gold. Like gold, platinum does not tarnish, so it's highly valued in the jewelry industry. Jewelry, in fact, is the single largest consumer of platinum, accounting for more than half of total demand. Automobile catalytic converters use another fifth of platinum production, with the balance going for use in the production of electronic equipment, fertilizers, explosives and other automotive components.
(For more details on platinum, see the Hard Assets University article "Precious Metals.")
For the not-so-bad, not-so-good news ...
Plans for a U.S.-listed platinum exchange-traded fund were scotched in May, leaving domestic investors looking to the futures market for pure platinum plays. An exchange-trade fund - the ETFS Physical Platinum, or PHPT, portfolio - however, trades in U.S. dollars on the London Stock Exchange. Like the streetTRACKS Gold Shares (NYSEARCA:GLD) and the iShares Silver Trust (NYSEARCA:SLV), PHPT is a grantor trust that holds actual metal, not futures contracts. No contango here. (See HAI's News and Views article, "The Battle Against Contango.")
Failing a trade through London, U.S. investors can get platinum exposure through the Rogers International Commodity Index - Metals Total Return exchange-traded note (AMEX: RJZ). The underlying index holds an 8.5% stake in platinum futures.
Some small exposure is better than nothing, I guess. But there's that pesky contango again.