Platinum: The Rich Man's Gold
-- An Introduction --
WHY IS PLATINUM SO PRECIOUS AND CONSIDERED THE RICH MAN'S GOLD?
It is simply a matter of relative scarcity. Per the Platinum Guild International, platinum is the "most precious" of the precious metals for the following reasons:
(1) The annual supply of platinum is only about 130 tons - which is equivalent to only 6% (by weight) of the total Western World's annual mine production of gold - and less than one percent of silver's yearly mine production. Another amazing platinum trivia is the fact that more than twice as much steel is poured in the U.S. in only one day than the total world's platinum production in one year - indeed scarce!
(2) Approximately 10 tons of ore must be mined - sometimes almost a mile underground at temperatures greater than 120 degrees Fahrenheit - to produce one pure ounce of the "so-called white gold." Furthermore, the total extraction process takes six long months.
(3) All the platinum ever mined throughout history would fill a basement of less than 25 cubic feet.
(4) Although its relative weight does not contribute to its value, platinum is even heavier than gold - one cubic foot weighs a little more than 1,330 pounds, about 11% denser than gold. THAT'S WELL MORE THAN HALF A TON. Expressing platinum's weight differently, a six-inch cube of the white metal weighs about as much as an average man!
(5) Relative to volume mined, platinum has many more industrial uses than either silver or gold. In fact more than 50% of the yearly production of platinum is consumed (read destroyed) by industrial uses - unlike gold!
(6) Also unlike gold, there are no large inventories of above-ground platinum. Therefore, any breakdown in the two major supply sources would catapult the price of platinum into orbit.
EXTREMELY LIMITED SOURCES OF SUPPLY
Unlike nearly all metals and crude oil which are found throughout the world, important platinum deposits are limited to basically two areas of the world. Naturally, platinum is produced as a by-product in several areas of the world, but this production source is very insignificant. Only South Africa and the CIS (formally known as the USSR) have been blessed with what might be termed deposits of "industrial quantities" of the "Rich Man's Gold." And South Africa is far and away the most important of the two as it accounts for approximately 80% of the total world's annual mine production - AND MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY 88% OF THE WORLD RESERVES OF PLATINUM. An interesting aside is the fact that South Africa controls more platinum reserves than ALL THE ARAB NATIONS CONTROL CRUDE OIL RESERVES. I say approximately 80% of world production, because that estimate is the consensus of the various sources. The CIS accounts for about 10%, the remainder is scattered around the world. Therefore, it is readily obvious to all observers that any political instability and/or labor turmoil in South Africa - and to a lesser extent in the CIS - would have an absolutely draconian impact upon platinum prices. As I mentioned previously, a general strike in South Africa would cause gold to soar, but it would take Jean Luk Picard (Star-Trek) at Warp 9.9 to catch up with zooming platinum prices.
In light of the metal's EXTREME scarcity, it is NOT surprising that more than 90% of the world's platinum production comes from only four mines: three in South Africa and one in the CIS. South Africa's prodigious platinum production comes mainly from Rustenburg (RPATY), Impala (IMPAY) and Lonrho (LNROY). And nearly all the CIS production comes from the Norlisk mine in Siberia. Interestingly, Rustenburg and Impala market prices have risen this year, despite the declining trend of gold and silver stocks. Currently, Rustenburg is up 33%, and Impala up about 20% from their 1997 lows. That type of relative strength usually portends much greater appreciation, once the precious metals begin their bull move.
PLATINUM PRODUCERS OUTSIDE SOUTH AFRICA
About three years ago I did some research on platinum. I discovered that a number of publicly owned companies produced platinum as a by-product. An example is the giant nickel producer in Canada, INCO. However, the financial fly in the ointment is that INCO's income from platinum production gets lost in their income statement, in that it represents such a minuscule amount relative to their other production. In fact my research only turned up one pure platinum play outside of South Africa. It is Stillwater Mining (PGMS) of Montana. Until about 1995 it was totally owned by Chevron Resources and the Manville Corporation. For whatever reasons the two giant corporations sold it to the public at about $14 per share, after which it roared to almost $29, when it corrected to support in the $15 area. In recent weeks renewed mutual fund interest in the stock has trampolined the price to about $24.
To my knowledge it is the only pure platinum play not subject to possible political instability and/or labor strife. I would be grateful if readers of this report would share any current platinum research and opinions they may have. Some sources estimate that Stillwater Mining accounts for about 3% of the annual supply of platinum.
Apart from the platinum producers already mentioned, there is one potentially interesting platinum play located in Zimbabwe, Africa. It is an Australian gold, platinum and diamond producer called Delta Gold (DGD). During the last few years Delta Gold has been exploring properties with platinum potential in Zimbabwe via a joint-venture with BHP Minerals. Though modest, actual platinum production has already begun in the Hartley Platinum Complex in Zimbabwe.
WORLD CONSUMPTION OF PLATINUM
Although an exhaustive analysis of the supply/demand dynamics of the white metal is beyond the scope of this report, this researcher would be remiss NOT to make some mention in this respect. Platinum supply/demand dynamics are tight - and getting tighter every month. While the western world's industrial demand is understandably a function of economic growth - which obviously increases at a moderate rate - emerging countries demand for platinum is literally exploding. For example, China. It is a well-known statistic that the Sino-behemoth has enjoyed the highest percent of annual economic growth of any nation in the world during the last 10 years. And there doesn't seem to be any slowing forecasted in the foreseeable future. China's platinum consumption has grown apace with its annual industrial production increases. The reader must be aware we are talking a dynamic society of more than 1.2 billion strong population. China's future platinum demand ALONE will tax current production capacity of the four major mines.
Annual platinum consumption is divided into three categories: 50% industrial uses; 40% jewelry manufacturing and 10% for investment purposes. Inscrutably, the Japanese account for 95% of the platinum jewelry demand.
PLATINUM'S INVESTMENT PROSPECTS
Historically, platinum prices run in tandem with the precious metals group (gold, silver, platinum and palladium). However, there are a couple of distinguishing characteristics to the "Rich Man's Gold." Platinum usually leads the other metals in any valid new bull move - albeit accompanied by palladium. Additionally, platinum is much more volatile on the upside and downside than is gold. Whereas during normal periods of rising precious metals prices, platinum enjoys a few dollars premium over gold, the platinum/gold spread widens considerably when the group is in a strong bull posture. In fact the platinum/gold spread has reached more than $200 occasionally during the last two decades. No one can foresee the future, but in the next precious metals bull market, it may well repeat the performance.
Whether a person should take the bullion investment approach, or the shares of the three South African platinum mining companies, or the North-American stock, Stillwater Mining, or the Australian Delta Gold, or even platinum coins - is a personal decision dependent upon numerous factors, and one's tolerance for risk. Unfortunately, discussion of these factors is beyond the scope of this report. Nevertheless, this researcher believes all will do well, once the bull market in precious metals begins its cycle anew.