Platinum is the most expensive commodity of all; if in 2010, when a tonne of copper cost almost $10,000, buying a tonne of platinum would have required around $64 million.
Platinum makes beautiful jewellery and has knocked gold off its throne of being the most desirable metal for luxury goods buyers. It is also used in industrial applications, primarily in catalytic car converters which now have to be fitted into any new car produced in the western world. Both the US and America have made their clean air regulation much tighter over the last few year.
Researchers have experimented with silver, palladium and other cheaper alternatives but platinum has proved more efficient by far than any other metal in reducing car emissions. This has not only pushed the price sky high but will also ensure steady high platinum demand for years to come.
Most of the world’s platinum comes from the deep mines in South Africa where a small group of companies including Anglo Platinum, Impala and Lonmin produce over three quarters of the world’s platinum supply. This concentration in one area brings some problems and in the past strikes, inconsistent electricity supplies and mining disasters have interrupted the supply of the metal onto the world markets. South African mines are deeper than any others and in some cases it can take a full 24 hours to travel to the furthest end of the mine, so adding new shafts to produce more metal is not an easy option.
Outside the southern tip of Africa, Russia is the largest producer and recently Zimbabwe has nudged into the third place on the world scene.
The two main trading centres for platinum are London, where it is traded “over the counter” that is, amounts of the physical metal are traded by market makers and brokers, and New York, where it is traded in the form of futures and options.