Stillwater plunges as palladium price is decimated

Nymex September palladium contracts tumbled on Tuesday, dropping as much as 8% following a double whammy of surging mine production and weakness in the top consumer of the metal.

In after hours trade palladium was exchanging hands for $536.05, down 6.6% or $38 compared to its previous close. Earlier in the day the metal plunged to a low of $528.20.

The price of palladium jumped to 13-year highs above $900 an ounce a year ago but has now retreated far into bear territory trading at the lowest since September 2010.

Platinum futures in New York had a much better day, retreating slightly to $974.50 an ounce. Compared to this time last year platinum is down 31%.

Platinum's primary use is in catalytic converters to reduce emissions – specifically for diesel vehicles – and Europe's automakers are the top consumers of the metal.

Palladium finds more application in gasoline engines and is therefore more exposed to the Chinese and US markets.

China is the world's largest and fastest growing vehicle market, but turmoil on the Shanghai and Shenzen stock markets and fears about the country's economic prospects have dented consumer confidence. In July car sales fell to its lowest level in 17 months.

Another factor putting the market under pressure is South African production of platinum which has now returned to levels ahead of a crippling five-month strike in 2014.

Statistics for June showed PGM production up 90% from the same month in 2014  when the world's three largest platinum mines were idled. Production was also 2% higher than May thanks to fewer power blackouts which has been plaguing the country for years.

South Africa produces more than 70% of the world's platinum and together with Russia control nearly 80% of primary PGM production.

Last week Stillwater Mining (NYSE:SWC) announced that it is reducing its workforce by 119 workers due to a "deteriorating" PGM market environment.

Stillwater is the only platinum and palladium producer in the US and accounts for 6% of global palladium production and 2% of the world's platinum supply from its two Montana mines.

The stock ended Tuesday down 7.3% and year to date the company's market value has plunged 38% giving it a capitalization of $1.2 billion on the New York Stock Exchange.