Picture du Jour: Gold or Platinum?

By: Prieur du Plessis | Sat, Jan 10, 2009
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"Au" and "Pt" may be dull chemical elements, but gold and platinum have certainly played their respective parts during the unfolding of the financial crisis. Revisiting the metals' movements, it is clear from the table below that gold's decline was much smaller than that of platinum - as platinum suffered from the deterioration in the auto industry - but the recovery of gold has also been lesser than that of platinum.

The weekly chart of platinum relative to gold illustrates the massive underperformance (declining black line) of platinum relative to gold from May to early December. However, platinum has since reversed course and outperformed (increasing black line) gold to the extent that it now commands a premium of 16% - up from parity in December.

The red line shows the platinum price, having peaked in March 2008 at $2,251 and topped out relative to gold in May at a premium of 140%. Technical analysis-orientated readers will also notice the blue MACD histograms moving into positive territory, indicating a buy signal for platinum in relative terms.

Although gold may experience a further pull-back in the short term (also as commodity index re-weighting runs its course), the longer-term outlook seems fairly positive as a result of a solid supply/demand situation, a likely waning appetite for US dollars and store-of-value considerations. According to the Telegraph, Merrill Lynch predicted that gold would soon break through its all time-high of $1,030 an ounce, and would hit $1,150 by June. Paul Walker, CEO of GFMS, said gold could rise to $1,100 by the end of 2009 as a result of the monetization of government debt. However, based on the relative chart above, platinum should have more upside potential than the yellow metal over the next few months.

The magnitude of gold or platinum's out- or underperformance will depend on a number of fundamental factors, as summarized by Rhona O'Connel (GFMS Analytics), in an article on Mineweb.

• To what extent is the market discounting or overdiscounting a recovery in the auto sector, in the US in particular?

• To what level will the relative fortunes of the jewelry market help to sustain an outperformance by platinum over gold?

• When will the global economy start to stabilize and at what point does the market start to fear systemic inflation risks?

Although platinum does not have the same currency characteristics as gold, it could regain favor as a result of a revitalization of the platinum jewelry trade (especially in China) and tightening environmental restrictions. And let's not forget that platinum is 30 times rarer than gold!

In short, there is a place for both gold and platinum in an investment portfolio, but be cognizant of the fact that precious metals are inherently volatile and are best bought following corrections. (The tickers for the gold and platinum ETFs are NYSE:GLD and LON:PHPT respectively. No platinum ETF is quoted in the US.)

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Prieur du Plessis

Author: Prieur du Plessis

Dr Prieur du Plessis

Dr Prieur du Plessis

With 25 years' experience in investment research and portfolio management, Dr Prieur du Plessis is one of the most experienced and well-known investment professionals in South Africa. More than 1 000 of his articles on investment-related topics have been published in various regular newspaper, journal and Internet columns. He also published a book, Financial Basics: Investment, in 2002.

He holds the following degrees: BSc (Quantity Surveying) (Cape Town), HonsB (B & A) (cum laude) (Stellenbosch), MBA (cum laude) (Stellenbosch); and DBA (Doctor of Financial Management) (Stellenbosch).

Prieur is chairman of the Plexus group of companies, which he founded in 1995. Previously he was general manager: portfolio management at Sanlam, responsible for the management of investment portfolios with total assets in excess of $5 billion.

Plexus is a pioneer in the mutual fund industry and has achieved a number of firsts under Prieur's leadership. These include the authoritative Plexus Survey, a quarterly analysis of the consistency of the performance of unit trust management companies, the Plexus Offshore Survey, the Plexus Unit Trust Indices, and the PlexCrown Fund Ratings.

Plexus is the South African partner of John Mauldin, American author of the most widely distributed investment newsletter in the world, and also has an exclusive licensing agreement with California-based Research Affiliates for managing and distributing its enhanced Fundamental Index™ methodology in the Pan-African area.

In 2001 Prieur received the Santam/AHI Business Leader of the Year award for corporate leadership, business acumen and entrepreneurial flair. He was also profiled in the book South Africa's Leading Managers (2006). Plexus received the AHI/Old Mutual Enterprise of the Year award in 1997 and was also included in the book South Africa's Most Promising Companies (2005).

Prieur is 52 years old and lives with his wife, TV producer and presenter Isabel Verwey, and two children in Welgemoed, Cape Town. His recreational activities include long-distance running, motor cycling and reading. He belongs to the Cape Town Club, Johannesburg Country Club, Gordon's Bay Yacht Club and Swiss Social & Sports Club.

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