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Thanks to the hit gold prices took in mid-April, other precious metals also got caught in the downdraft – but some still look to be among the best investments of 2013.
Take platinum, for example.
It is currently trading at about $1,500 an ounce, well off its 52-week high of $1,734 an ounce. During the height of the selloff last month, it touched a low of $1,381 an ounce.
Investors sold it along with all other precious metals, even though the fundamentals for platinum may be better than ever.
While platinum’s long-term outlook is bright, a short-term price catalyst is about to take place, as early as this week.
The world’s biggest platinum producer, ANGLO American Platinum (Amplats), could take a significant amount of platinum off the market. The restructuring could cost 14,000 jobs and close two South African mines.
It’ll also help drive a supply deficit that will only expand in the years ahead, making platinum one of the best investments to make now before prices soar.
No wonder Sprott Holdings’ Rick Rule bought $280 million worth of platinum and palladium earlier this year…
South African Labor Problems Grow
Platinum supplies are dropping to a 13-year low. After seven consecutive years of surpluses, the platinum market swung into a small deficit in 2012.
The main problem on the platinum supply side is South Africa, which mines about 80% of the world’s platinum.
Labor strife last year in the country was the key driver behind a 12% drop in refined mine production.
The labor situation in South Africa is complicated. There are strikes by labor unions demanding better wages and improved working conditions from the current deplorable work environment.
In addition, there is also a battle (sometimes literally) between two unions – the National Union of Mineworkers and the much more militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union – for the hearts and minds of workers.
At the moment, the more militant union seems to have the upper hand. This will likely mean increased labor strife in the South African mining industry in the coming months.
SA Platinum Industry on the Decline
There is unlikely to be a quick solution to the problems in South Africa’s platinum mining industry for one very simple reason: a lack of profitability.
According to Rick Rule, the South African platinum industry “does not meet its cost of capital.”
He added “More than half the shafts are loss making.”
Rule said a key reason is that the industry is very labor-intensive. The platinum ore deposits are far too thin for mechanical mining methods to make economic sense. Also there is intense political pressure against mechanization in order to keep the unemployment rate down.
Platinum mining is also very power-intensive, which presents another problem.
South Africa’s national power company Eskom, which provides 95% of the country’s power, is in terrible shape. Demand for electricity nationwide is rising while it struggles to keep the supply of electricity running.
Shilan Shah of Capital Economics told the Financial Times that “An estimated 25% of Eskom’s total capacity may be unavailable this year due to unplanned maintenance work. . .as such, there is a significant risk of further mine closures throughout the course of 2013.”
The reason for Eskom’s problems? It is required to provide power to even those who cannot afford it.
So as Rick Rule says, “Eskom doesn’t earn its cost of capital either.”
The platinum mining companies have stated publicly that, in order to maintain current production levels, the industry needs to make $8 billion in capital investment. The problem arises because the industry does not have $8 billion since it has been losing money steadily the past several years.
That will leave the South African platinum mining industry unable to produce the amount of metal it once did.
William Tankard, Thomson Reuters GFMS Mining Research director, said in the latest Platinum & Palladium Survey “We expect South African platinum output [to] fail to rebound this year, even after a calamitous 2012.”
Best Investments 2013: How to Profit from Platinum
South Africa’s platinum mining industry’s problems will go on for years with less and less platinum production a likely result. The platinum companies simply do not have the capital to make the necessary improvements to the mines to make them more profitable and meet the unions’ demands.
And with the capital markets basically closed to precious metals firms, they are unlikely to be able to borrow the money either.
Investors can profit from this situation by purchasing exchange-traded funds that hold platinum. Listed platinum mining companies, which are mainly South African, should be avoided.
One example of such an ETF is the ETFS Physical Platinum Shares (NYSEArca: PPLT), which is backed by physical platinum bars held in London and Zurich vaults. This ETF is better than other investment instruments that only promise to track the price of the metal and do not own the actual metal.
- CNBC: This Is What Could Drive Platinum Higher, Very Soon
- Financial Times BeyondBrics:
- Platinum Investing News: Rick Rule: PGMs vs. Silver and Gold
- Mining Weekly: Platinum Swung to Deficit in 2012 on Industrial Action Disruptions