Your Investments: Is platinum undervalued?

With strong demand, platinum may be a potentially rewarding investment for the second half of the year.

When it comes to investing in precious metals, most investors tend to focus on gold and silver. With gold in the midst of a multiyear bull market, and trading at $1,600 and ounce, the yellow metal gets most of the media attention.
Headlines like “Gold to Hit $2,000 an Ounce” and “Invest in Gold to Cash in on US Dollar Demise” have appeared almost relentlessly over the past couple of years.
Rising gold prices have been less about economic fundamentals, such as rising demand, and more about inflation worries and a US dollar hedge. The lack of economic fundamentals driving gold higher has led some to think that the market has been taken over by speculators.
For most non-day-trading investors, the last thing that you want to do is invest in a market driven by speculators. Before you know it, the speculators have moved on to some other asset, sending the value of your investment plunging, all while you are left holding the proverbial bag, without even knowing what happened.
There is no question that for investors looking for a hedge for inflation or US dollar exposure, gold is a reasonable investment.
But is there a better alternative?
Best of both worlds
Wouldn’t it be great if you could invest in a metal that provides the same benefits of gold, like hedging inflation and currency exposure, but has an increasing industrial demand as well? There may be an effective solution for investors looking to get the best of both worlds. Platinum is considered a “precious metal” and also has recently seen surging industrial demand. Surging industrial demand without much of a global economic recovery certainly is intriguing. If the global economy actually starts to grow, this could be huge for the metal.
With a struggling global economy, the logical question is where this increased demand for platinum is coming from? The answer: the auto industry. While platinum has a number of industrial uses – including lab equipment, thermometers and electrodes – its primary use is in catalytic converters for the automotive industry. Catalytic converters allow complete combustion of unburned hydrocarbons from exhaust into carbon dioxide and water vapor, making it a critical component of any automobile.
Led by Chinese demand and a slight pickup in North American sales, it looks like the auto industry has weathered the storm of three years ago and is growing.
The use of platinum in jewelry is also a price catalyst. As gold prices surge, demand for platinum has risen as well. Johnson Matthey recently released a report that said, “Demand for platinum jewelry in North America rose 30 percent last year as consumer confidence returned amid improving economic conditions.”
In addition, the National Jeweler reported, “The rising gold price particularly helped platinum sales at the bridal counter, where couples didn’t hesitate to pick platinum over gold when the price gap on a finished piece of jewelry narrowed to a few hundred dollars.”
Michael Johnson of the ETF Database said: “Platinum is one of the world’s rarest metals, with annual global supplies totaling only about 6 million ounces, meaning that prices can be very volatile at times. Nearly half of the global platinum supply is used by auto manufacturers each year, establishing a strong relationship between metal prices and the health of the auto industry.”
It is a basic question of supply and demand. With a limited global platinum supply and an apparent increase in demand, the potential exists for platinum to continue to surge.
So far in 2011 for investors, platinum has seriously underperformed both gold and silver. As such, and with strong demand, platinum may be a potentially rewarding investment for the second half of the year.
Precious-metal investing is not for everyone and can be very volatile. Speak with your financial professional to see whether an investment in platinum would be appropriate for your portfolio.
Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial adviser in Israel and the United States who helps people with US investment accounts.