With all the uncertainty facing the global economy in the wake of recent credit crisis, it's no wonder why investors have flocked to precious metals. The inflation fighting abilities as well as the safe haven status that metals offer continues to lure investors into the asset class. The SPDR Gold Shares (ARCA:GLD) now boasts more than $65 billion in assets, making it one of the largest exchange-traded funds (ETFs) on the market. However, while much of the attention from investors has been focused on gold and silver, the other two horseman of the precious metal world have gone almost unnoticed. Offering both precious and industrial metal aspects, the duo of platinum and palladium could be a better bet.
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Tight Supply Amid Rising Demand
While gold and silver typically hog the headlines, the platinum group metals (PGM) could be the real bargain in the precious metals space. Slowing global growth coupled with the rising U.S. dollar has taken a lot of wind out of the PGM's sails. Platinum prices have fallen to a four-and-a-half-month low of $1,395.35 an ounce, while palladium can be had in the low $600s. However, the combination of rising industrial and investment demand plus dwindling global supplies, could make the metal a better long-term choice for investors.
SEE: A Beginner's Guide To Precious Metals
According to analysts at Barclays (NYSE:BCS) labor strikes and safety concerns in South Africa--the world's biggest producer--will help drop output by more than 4% to 6.14 million ounces this year. That's helping, reducing a short-term supply according to bank estimates. Likewise, palladium supplies are feeling the pinch as Russian Cold War-era stockpiles are roughly empty, and officials in the nation's Ministry of Finance have stated that Russia will not be the key swing-supplier going forward. Last year, those Russian stockpiles provided nearly 10% of PGM's global supply. Yet, there are no new significant mines on the horizon.
However, all of these supply constraints are coming in the face of rising demand. The PGM's are a critical component of the automobile industry, finding their way into catalytic converters to control emissions. Global sales of cars and light commercial vehicles are poised to rise 5.5% to a record 79.4 million units this year. More than 30% of all the palladium and 38% of the platinum that is consumed goes into catalytic converters. In addition, platinum is used in a variety of high-tech industries including LCD monitors, hard disk drives, batteries and electrodes. This rising industrial demand has Barclay's predicting that platinum prices will average $1,750 an ounce in the fourth quarter of this year.
SEE: Investing In Precious Metals
Betting on the White Metals
While gold seems to be benefiting from its safe haven status, investors may find the long-term growth catalysts in platinum more to their liking. The current low-price relative to the future supply and demand constraints could be used as a great time to add the metal to a portfolio.
Like the previously mentioned SPDR Gold Shares, both the ETFS Physical Palladium Shares (ARCA:PALL) and ETFS Physical Platinum Shares (ARCA:PPLT) hold bullion and allow investors to directly track the price of the white metals. Both funds charge 0.60% in expenses and sit closer to their respective 52-week lows than highs. Likewise, investors can use iPath Dow Jones-UBS Platinum Trust Sub-Idx ETN (ARCA:PGM) to bet on rising platinum prices. The exchange-traded note relies on futures contracts to achieve its objectives as opposed to physically holding platinum.
As with the rest of the precious metals space, investors can gain additional leverage by betting on the miners of the PGM. Both North American Palladium (NYSE:PAL) and Stillwater Mining (NYSE:SWC) offer a chance to participate in the growth of the domestic mining sector for these two metals. For a broader bet, the First Trust ISE Global Platinum Index (Nasdaq:PLTM) can be used. The fund tracks 23 different miners including giants like Anglo American Platinum (OTCBB:AGPPY) and Russia's Norilsk Nickel (OTCBB:NILSY) and charges 0.70% in expenses.
SEE: Precious Metals Funds: A Golden Opportunity?
The Bottom Line
While gold and silver remain the go-to precious metals, the growth in platinum and palladium continues unabated. For investors, these quasi-precious and industrial minerals could be one of the best bargains in the commodity space. The previous picks, along with the futures-based UBS E-TRACS Long Platinum TR ETN (ARCA:PTM) make ideal selections to play the PGM's growth.
At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.