Platinum prices climb on Zim worries

HARARE - Palladium futures settled at a 17-month high in midweek, while platinum marched higher, as traders continued to sift through reports of a potential supply disruption in Zimbabwe.

Palladium for March delivery, the most active contract, rose 65 cents, or 0,1 percent, to settle at $772,05 a troy ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

This was the highest settlement price since September 2011.

The most actively traded platinum contract, for April delivery, rose $12,50, or 0,7 percent, to settle at $1 729,70 a troy ounce on the Nymex.

This is the highest settlement price since February 6, when platinum touched its 2013 high of $1 736,50 a troy ounce.

Prices of both platinum group metals, or PGMs, continued to draw strength from news that the Zimbabwean government will seize nearly 28 hectares of land leased by platinum miner Zimplats Holdings Ltd.

The measures are aimed at re-allocating assets to local businesses, but some analysts say the moves could disrupt production of platinum group metals, or PGMs, which includes platinum, palladium and rhodium.

“While PGM production from Zimbabwe pales in comparison to South Africa, it nonetheless reflects the tensions PGM miners face operating in the southern African region,” said James Steel, precious-metals analyst with HSBC.

He added that prices of platinum and palladium are likely to move higher as a result.

Platinum and palladium prices have soared more than 10 percent so far this year, amid fears that mine closures in top supplier South Africa will lead to a shortage.

Platinum and palladium are mostly used to make car exhaust filters, known as catalytic converters.

 Zimbabwe’s platinum output puts it in third place, behind world leader South Africa, and second-place Russia according to Johnson Matthey, a specialty chemicals company which makes platinum and palladium coatings for the auto industry.

This comes as Zimbabwean government last week repossessed nearly 28 000 hectares of platinum claims from Zimbabwe Platinum Mines Limited (Zimplats), in a move Mines minister Obert Mpofu said was meant to maximise benefits from the country’s resources.

Mpofu said the takeover was immediate.

“The ministry is following on the creation of real opportunity and investments space by making more land available for new investments, attracting new players into the industry and acting on excess and unutilised ground,” Mpofu said, adding that government experts will also review contracts and claims owned by other mines.

“This will be made possible through reviewing of all mining rights deemed to be in excess.

To that end, following protracted discussions on the release of excess ground, my ministry is taking a step forward to repossess excess ground from Zimplats measuring 27 948 hactares,” he said.

Mpofu said the mining giant was granted claims that quadruple the contract stretching beyond a hundred years.

“Zimplats was granted special lease in 1994 covering 25 years, but geological information now indicate that the total ground granted and the mineral endowment therein has a lifespan far exceeding the prescribed period,” he said.

The minister said government would stop processing exports for semi–processed platinum products after two years. Impala Platinum Holdings (Implats) — Zimplats’ parent company — recently unveiled its indigenisation plan by ceding a 51 percent stake worth $971 million to locals.

By signing an agreement or term sheet — outlining the implementation of its enhanced empowerment plan — with government, the platinum miner complied with Zimbabwe’s indigenisation law.

Under the indigenisation deal, 31 percent was issued to National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board (Nieeb)’s fund, 10 percent to employees and the other 10 percent was given to Ngezi-Zvimba Community Share Ownership Trust.  

The deal is expected to be complete by June 30, 2013.

This comes as an earlier indigenisation plan by Zimplats had been rejected by government. Under Zimbabwe’s indigenisation law, endorsed four years ago, foreign-owned firms with a net asset value of $500 000 plus must cede at least 51 percent shareholding to locals.

The Zimplats deal follows that of fellow platinum producer Mimosa, which sold off a 51 percent stake at $556 million.

Mimosa is jointly owned by Aquarius and Implats. — With Wall Street Journal

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