December 29, 2022 | Supply Chain Strategy
Platinum group metals (PGMs) comprise of platinum, palladium, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium.
This group of six metals have high thermal and corrosion resistance, high melting point and catalytic properties making them the preferred materials for automotive exhaust emission control devices like catalytic converters.
In fact, majority of the demand for these metals stems from the automotive industry.
In the last two years, PGM prices have seen significant volatility due to supply side issues and demand fluctuations. Moreover, the increasing demand for electric vehicles has brought significant challenge for the industry with internal combustion engine-based automobiles as its key consumption sector.
Environmental challenges, geopolitical tensions and supply chain disruptions have further affected the industry, with market participants worried about the robustness of their PGM supply base in the future.
So, what are the causes for price volatility and supply bottlenecks in the PGM market? When will these issues resolve?
In 2021, Russia was the second-largest producer of platinum and palladium -- the most extensively used PGMs. For palladium, Russia accounts for more than one-third of the global supply.
However, after the Russia-Ukraine war broke out in February 2022, London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) suspended all six Russian precious metal refineries from its Good Delivery List. The London Platinum and Palladium Market (LPPM) also suspended the deliveries from the only two accredited Russian precious metal refineries.
Although individual companies could still deal directly with these Russian refineries, the issue of transportation created substantial roadblocks. Sanctions limiting flights from Europe to Russia impacted the palladium supply chain, as most of the metal was being airlifted from Russia to refineries worldwide.
These ultimately led to record high prices of palladium in April and May 2022, as well as price increase in other precious metals, including platinum.
However, palladium prices have gone down as the market recovered from the shock of Russian supply loss and demand remained bearish from the Chinese automotive sector.
Market analysts believe the impact of the disruption of Russian PGM supply will be mostly negated by 2023 as more South African supply gets diverted towards countries who are sanctioning Russia.
As mentioned above, the automotive industry is the primary driver of demand for the PGM market.
These metals are extensively used in manufacturing catalysts for vehicle exhaust emission control devices. So, when automotive demand dwindled during the pandemic, PGM prices went down subsequently. When the markets reopened after the pandemic restrictions were lifted across major economies, prices rallied up due to strong sentiments of demand recovery.
Prices, however, went down as the global automotive sector grappled with chip shortages bringing down auto production rates across the globe.
The automotive industry has since recovered substantially, with production backlogs and bottlenecks ending and demand picking up across the globe.
However, risks remain in the form of China, a major auto market in the world.
When the Chinese government announced relaxations in its strict zero-COVID policy in November, PGM prices, especially platinum, rallied in hopes of demand recovering in the largest automotive catalyst market.
However, as reports of serious COVID-19 outbreaks are pouring in from different sources, it looks as if the price rally will be short lived.
The disruption of Russian supply and slowdown in Chinese demand are only short-term factors impacting prices for PGMs.
However, more serious challenges lie ahead for the industry.
The industry is expected to face shortage of supply in the coming years, as dwindling investments into creating new supply has led to no major upcoming capacity additions for the next two to three years.
According to World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC), the platinum market deficit could deepen to 219,000 ounces in 2023, 80,000 ounces in 2024, and surging to 597,000 ounces in 2025 and 712,000 ounces in 2026.
In the coming years, demand for palladium and rhodium is also expected to outweigh supply as stricter emission control regimes will lead to a higher demand for palladium catalysts in catalytic converters.
In the short-term, PGM prices are expected to reduce and supply should be ample due to the situation in China.
However, when the Chinese economy recovers from the COVID outbreaks, demand will rise, and supply, therefore, will be in deficit.
In the long term, the market will continue to be in tight supply, at least till 2026-27, leading to elevated PGM prices.
PGM market participants will have to continue to navigate these challenges and prepare for the biggest impending risk.
The risk which will come a few decades down the line as EVs gain traction, and new technologies make them more affordable, PGM demand for combustion engine automobiles will decrease, and the industry will have to find newer applications to sustain or risk losing out.
Author: Niloy Goswami