The Modern Commodity
The number and scope of platinum’s industrial uses have skyrocketed during this century to include neurosurgical and dental apparatus, drugs for cancer treatment, computer and automotive equipment. Indeed, one of every five goods either contains or is produced using platinum. One of its most essential uses is in auto catalytic converters. Within autocatalysts, platinum converts harmful emissions into carbon dioxide and water. Nearly one third of newly mined platinum is used in this fashion.
New uses for platinum are being discovered almost daily amidst a supply that is extremely restricted. Remarkable difficulties exist in its mining and production, with between 5 and 6 million ounces of new platinum reaching the world market each year, less than 5% of gold production. Estimates of all of the platinum ever mined would fill a room measuring less than twenty-five feet on each side. Mining and refining the metal is an intricate process of extraction that takes about six months.
Platinum’s supply/demand fundamentals are tight. In fact, according to some estimates, were platinum mining to cease today, above ground reserves would last about one year. In contrast, gold reserves would last nearly one quarter of a century. Platinum's supply is tight even during periods of relatively normal mining production. Enough platinum was supplied to world markets last year only after Russia exported considerable amounts of platinum from its shrinking above-ground reserves.
Platinum Coinage and Bullion
Today, a number of prestigous government mints strike platinum bullion. After 100 years of no investment options, the platinum investor now can choose between legal tender coins, bullion bars, exchange traded futures and options or even various numismatic coin products. However, while the development of platinum as an industrial, jewelry and investment product has been an interesting one, the white metal’s most exciting advances may lie ahead. As trade barriers have fallen and command economies have been privatized, we have seen the acceleration of economic growth throughout the world. What makes this so exciting for platinum investors is that, in contrast with gold and silver, as countries become wealthier, they spend an increasing share of their wealth on platinum. This phenomenon is most clearly seen in the recent rapid spread of catalytic converter legislation to many emerging markets that, heretofore, consumed only insignificant amounts of platinum.
From being the metal that polluted the gold of the Conquistadors to its recognition as being the rarest or even the most precious of the precious metals, platinum's odyssey has given it the investment performance of a precious metals hedge with the potential of the scarcest of industrial commodities.