SA supply constraints drive palladium above $2 500 an ounce

Palladium surged the most intraday since 2008 on Friday as scant supply and robust demand extended a record-breaking rally.

Spot palladium jumped as much as 9.7% to an all-time high of $2 539.14 (R36 750 at current exchange rates) an ounce. The metal rallied to post its best week since 2001 and shows little sign of slowing down, even as some analysts caution that prices may be due for a pullback.

While palladium’s rally has been driven by supply deficits and surging demand, the increases have exceeded market forecasts, said Rene Hochreiter, an analyst at Noah Capital Markets, who expects spot prices could retreat to average $2 250 an ounce for the rest of the year.

“Prices do not go up forever and the recent run should see a correction, though the fundamental shortfalls will not go away anytime soon,” Hochreiter said.

Palladium is trading at more than twice the price of platinum, which may motivate carmakers to use it as a substitute, according to Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.

“A modest recovery in the auto sector along with tighter emissions regulations should lend support,” ANZ strategists Daniel Hynes and Soni Kumari said in a report. Still, a “price setback is possible for palladium following its impressive rally this year.”

Palladium’s surge has been a boon for platinum-group miners in South Africa, which accounts for about 38% of global palladium supply. The FTSE/JSE Africa Platinum Mining Index is at the highest since 2011, and the shares of top producer Sibanye Gold have risen nearly fourfold in the past 12 months.

“Further weakness in mining production can’t be ruled out,” Warren Patterson and Wenyu Yao, commodities strategists at ING Bank, said in a note to clients. “While higher prices should be encouraging miners to look to boost output, palladium is largely produced as a by-product, making supply more inelastic.”

Supply constraints in South Africa, where producers are grappling with an uncertain electricity system, have been one the main drivers for the price rally, said ABN Amro Bank NV strategist Georgette Boele.

“It’s a very structurally tight market,” Ryan McKay, an analyst at TD Securities in Toronto, said by phone. “Even the actual physical demand - automakers who use this stuff providing a bid for that metal - that drives the prices up when it’s super tight and supply is not really there.”

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