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Platinum giants get lifeline

As green economy boosts demand.
Image: Bloomberg

The world’s biggest platinum miners have been handed a lifeline as the introduction of tougher vehicle emissions rules from Asia to Europe stimulates demand.

After a decade in the doldrums, South Africa’s key platinum industry reported windfall profits last month as supply deficits pushed palladium and rhodium to record highs. Recent legislation to curb pollution from gasoline and diesel engines is boosting the use of platinum-group metals in autocatalysts, the biggest PGM consumers. That’s keeping the bonanza going for miners, even as the growth of electric vehicles poses a longer-term threat to demand.

“It’s certainly given them a new lease of life and some have added life to assets that were meant to be shut down already,” said Mandi Dungwa, an analyst at Kagiso Asset Management Ltd. in Cape Town. “There were a lot of questions around how long some of these mining companies would continue to exist.”

Platinum mine bosses are upbeat. Stricter rules will increase PGM use in vehicles by an average of 20% over the next 10 years, said Anglo American Platinum Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Natascha Viljoen.

“It looks like this one could last longer than previous cycles because it’s driven by a legislative push to reduce emissions,” said Arnold Van Graan, an analyst at Nedbank Securities Ltd.

Regulation Impact estimated by Johnson Matthey
EU 6d, 2020 Rules have increased palladium loadings by 40% to 50% per vehicle
India’s Bharat VI 2020 Has lifted loadings of palladium by 10% in gasoline cars
China 6, June 2021 PGM loadings to treble in heavy duty diesel vehicles, with platinum to benefit the most
US Tier 3 legislation Automakers required to cut emissions by 80% from 2017 to 2015

Autocatalyst demand for platinum, which was dented by the switch away from diesel cars, is likely to rise by two-thirds to 4.5 million ounces by 2025 as automakers substitute the metal for more expensive palladium, according to Sibanye Stillwater Ltd. CEO Neal Froneman.

“The fundamentals from a producer’s point of view get better and better as we look further out,” Froneman said in an interview. “So for at least 10 years there is no reason why this trend should be any different.”

The robust outlook and profit windfall has resulted in companies starting to expand output after more than a decade of shunning investments. Future demand could be met without oversupplying markets, according to Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. CEO Nico Muller.

An index of platinum mining stocks in Johannesburg has climbed more than fourfold over the past 12 months.

Longer term, the proliferation of electric vehicles raises challenges as they gradually displace the combustion engine that’s helped drive PGM consumption. Much will depend on whether the nascent hydrogen industry can offer new sources of demand to offset the hit from EVs.

For the moment, the outlook is uncertain, according to Rory Kutisker-Jacobson, a portfolio manager at Allan Gray Ltd. in Cape Town.

“The transition to electric vehicles is negative for PGM metals, but this needs to be balanced against continued tightening emission standards and a growing hydrogen economy, which are positive for PGM demand,” he said. “If history is any guide, prices and profits are likely to come under pressure.”

© 2021 Bloomberg

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