Platinum, palladium prices are tanking

Platinum futures listed on Nymex were trading lower at $1,434.00 an ounce on Wednesday, while September palladium contracts fell sharply to a low of $869.65 an ounce as recent optimism about the prospects for the sector evaporate.

Palladium futures trading on New York's Nymex hit an all-time record intra-day futures price above $900 an ounce on Monday on supply fears as tensions between the West and Russia over the latter's involvement in Ukraine escalate.

The retreat in platinum from a closing high of $1,517 on July 10 began earlier this month and palladium's sister metal is now trading at its lowest since the beginning of June.

South Africa, where a devastating strike kept mined metal off markets for months, and Russia combined account for close to 80% of global supply of palladium and 70% of platinum output which are mainly used to clean emissions in automobiles.

While supply worries were behind the rise of the metals this year, focus is now shifting to the demand side as the number one consumer of PGMs – Europe's car industry – perform below expectations.

From expectations of a 6% jump in sales this year, the continent's carmakers only managed to shift around 3% more vehicles in the first half as Europe's largest economies look in danger of sliding back into recession.

A slowing economy in China, the world's largest vehicle market where catalyst use skews towards palladium, is also clouding the outlook.

PGM prices are notoriously volatile.

The London fix for palladium peaked on January 26, 2001 at $1,090 an ounce, but then retreated sharply to $319 by October that year.

Predictions of a sustained rise in the price of platinum have not materialized either – the precious metal hit $2,253 in March of 2008 and has never been above $2,000 since that year.