Paul Simon says it best when you’re talking about the action in the oil markets lately: Oil just keeps ‘slip slidin’ away. Prices are at levels not seen since 2010.
This startling price action is causing fascinating reactions in a broad number of industries and sectors.
One particularly interesting reaction is that of the automobile industry and all its related commodity sectors, especially platinum and palladium.
As gas gets cheaper, vehicles sales go up. And as vehicle sales go up, so does the demand for these two metals.
Parallel Trips Up
Vehicle sales in the United States have made a steady recovery from the 2008-2009 financial crises and are now back to where they were before the recession. Sales are on track to hit about 16.5 million vehicles by year-end.
The confidence in the marketplace is obvious through increased sales of the old American favorites, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
For example, Ford Motor (F) reports that such vehicles made up about 72% of its sales in October, up from 68.5% a year ago. And three of the top five sellers in October were full-size pickups: the Ford F150, the Chevy Silverado, and the Dodge Ram.
And it’s not just the U.S. vehicle market, either…
China, the world’s biggest vehicle market, has slowed its purchasing, but it’s still growing. In the first 10 months of this year, vehicle sales were up 6.6% year on year to nearly 19 million vehicles.
Scotiabank analyst Carlos Gomes foresees further good times ahead in 2015, thanks to low oil prices. In fact, he says we may see a repeat of 1994 when a similar drop in oil led to global auto sales surging 9% that year. In October, overall global vehicle sales were up 3% around the world.
In a report, Gomes spoke about the similarities between 1994 and now.
“In both periods, interest rates had remained low for an extended period and labor markets – the key economic driver of new vehicle sales – were finally recovering following a long period of sub-par performance,” said Gomes.
The Impact on Metals
If Gomes is correct, this bodes very well for platinum and especially palladium. Platinum is used in catalytic converters for diesel-powered engines and palladium is used in gasoline engines.
In 2013, palladium demand for the vehicle industry accounted for 75% of overall demand, according to precious metals specialist Johnson Matthey. In 2014, Johnson Matthey says that demand will rise by about 11% to 10.5 million ounces with 7.1 million ounces of demand from the automotive sector.
That rising demand is contrasting with shrinking supplies as the market faces a deficit for the third consecutive year. The deficit this year may hit 1.6 million ounces, the highest since records began 34 years ago, thanks largely to strikes in South Africa.
Yet, prices have lagged recently, caught up in the troubles of gold and silver, with prices dipping below $800 per ounce to the mid-$700s per ounce. Earlier this year, palladium had hit a 13-year high of above $900 per ounce.
There’s a good possibility palladium will rebound to that level again with low oil fueling increased vehicle sales.
Investors can play that bounce through the purchase of exchange-traded funds that hold physical palladium, such as the ETFS Physical Palladium Shares (PALL).
And “the chase” continues,