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Palladium tops US$1,800 for first time as shortage persists

[NEW YORK] Palladium traded near a record after topping US$1,800 an ounce as stricter air-quality rules increase demand for the metal used in vehicle pollution-control devices, with prices up more than 40 per cent this year.

Spot palladium was steady at US$1,800.09 an ounce at 10:22 a.m. in Singapore time, after peaking on Monday at US$1,810.20. The metal, mined in South Africa and Russia, has surged for the past six straight quarters.

While car sales have been sluggish, tighter environmental laws in Europe and China are boosting consumption, according to Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. Production is likely to continue to trail use through 2020, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Eily Ong said in an Oct 17 note. Speculation that the US and China are moving closer to a trade deal also helped lift prices on Monday.

"That tightness in the palladium market continues to be the main driver," Ryan McKay, a commodities strategist at TD Securities, said from Toronto. "You also have the better sentiment in the industrial metals complex. That also helps."

Production of platinum-group metals in South Africa shrank the most in 18 months in August, while growth in Russia stalled last month, government data show. Power outages in South Africa have helped cloud the supply outlook.

There's been concern that palladium's hefty price could prompt automakers to find lower-cost materials, but so far that's not happening. Platinum, a cheaper sister metal used largely in diesel vehicles, is often mentioned as a possible alternative, but research has shown technological advances are needed before it can match the performance of palladium-based catalytic converters, according to Johnson Matthey Plc, which makes the devices.

In other precious metals, gold for immediate delivery was little changed at US$1,492.30 an ounce, after falling 0.8 per cent on Monday as optimism on trade-deal prospects helped push US equities to record highs. Silver and platinum fell.


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