Within the commodity markets and especially precious metals, the sharp erosion of the platinum price both defies logic and paradoxically makes perfect sense. A rarer resource than gold bullion, platinum yet again witnessed a steep selloff, losing 1.9% on Friday to round out the week.
Will the disappointment ever end? At first glance, the situation obviously doesn’t look good at all. Near the half-way point for July, the platinum price is down slightly over 3%. On a year-to-date basis, the “other” white metal has shed an eyebrow-raising 11.3%. It’s by far one of the worst-performing hard assets this year.
To put this into context, gold bullion, while suffering like all other precious metals, is down 4.9% YTD. The historically volatile – and many convincingly argue heavily manipulated –silver bullion is off the pace by 7.2%. The only other asset among precious metals that exceeds the losses seen in the platinum price is palladium, which is only marginally worse at 11.8%.
So what’s going on with the platinum price? Statistically speaking, the extreme rarity of platinum should make it notably more expensive than an equivalent weight of gold bullion. Demand for both is exceptionally robust, not only in terms of jewelry, but also in their usage as industrial assets. Since we’re increasingly moving towards a semiconductor-intensive ecosystem, precious metals represent a top priority for tech manufacturers.
Back in 2012, mainstream news source Forbes.com published an article entitled, “Gold Becomes Pricier Than Platinum, That’s Rare And Scary.” Indeed, it is. Contributor Adrian Ash had this to say about the strange dynamic six years ago:
Since last summer, platinum has slipped faster than gold. More notably, it’s slipped below the gold price itself, something seen for only three trading days in December 2008 in the immediate aftermath of Lehman’s bankruptcy. Before that, you have to go back to the recession of 1991…the peak of the “strong dollar” disinflation of 1984…the global stock market’s once-in-a-generation low of 1982…and gold’s big tops of Jan. 1980 and Dec. 1974 to find platinum trading cheaper than the gold price.
In my opinion, the platinum price dropping below gold bullion is the precious metals equivalent of the inverted yield curve, where buyers receive a greater payout for nearer-term expiry bonds than their longer-term equivalent. Put simply, it doesn’t make rational sense.
So why did I say that it does?
The second quarter earnings season kicked off in earnest on Friday with the Q2 results of three major banks: JPMorgan, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo. I covered the Citigroup earnings report for the mainstream media, and their results disappointed: they beat earnings per share estimates, but largely through accounting gymnastics. On revenues, they surprisingly missed.
Citigroup and its big-banking peers are economic bellwethers. Their performance is a solid indicator of the economy’s pulse. And declining revenues, particularly in the North American market and in corporate lending, suggests that the economy isn’t nearly as robust as previously marketed.
In other words, the economic recovery could be fake news, and that the only real news is the platinum price. Precious metals could be declining because in reality, industrial demand doesn’t support them.
That’s not to say, though, that the platinum price and other hard assets are permanently in a bear market. Outside of industrial demand, these resources are considered safe-haven investments. But it might take some time to get to that phase as Main Street is still drinking the Kool-aid.