Palladium, named after Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, is from the same group of metals as platinum, but has the malleability and ductility of gold. It was discovered in 1803 by English chemist William H. Wollaston after he dissolved platinum in a solution of hydrochloric and nitric acids.
Eventually, Wollaston was able to isolate palladium in a series of chemical reactions, ultimately extracting the metal from palladium cyanide. After anonymously selling the metal at market for two years, Wollaston spoke at the Royal Society of London about the properties and production of palladium, revealing himself as discoverer of the metal.
Palladium is found in various places throughout the world, often together with other platinum group metals (PGMs). Deposits can be found in countries such as Russia, North and South America, Ethiopia and Australia. Palladium may also be found with nickel–copper deposits in South Africa and Ontario.
However, Russia is the world’s largest palladium producer, contributing about 40 percent of the world’s supply of the metal. Russia’s state metals depository is also thought to hold large stockpiles of the metal, but does not reveal exactly how much palladium it has on hand.
Global palladium mine production fell 7 percent in 2014 to 6.04 million ounces, a 12 year low, according to Thomson Reuters GFMS. Market watchers expect palladium to remain in deficit for 2015, largely on the back of rising vehicle sales.
The automotive sector consumes the lion’s share of the world’s palladium supply each year, as palladium is primarily used in catalytic converters to help reduce toxic emissions. The tightening of emissions standards worldwide has heightened palladium demand, especially in emerging economies like China, India, Brazil and Russia.
Furthermore, William Tankard of Thomson Reuters has noted that while palladium is used in catalytic converters for gasoline engines and platinum is used for diesel, palladium is starting to encroach on platinum’s market share – palladium is being substituted for platinum when possible since it is cheaper.
Palladium is also commonly used in jewelry and dentistry, and in the electronics industry.
Investing in palladium
There are a number of options for those interested in investing in palladium. As with gold, silver and other precious metals, it is possible to buy palladium from a bullion dealer in the form of coins or bars.
One can also invest in palladium via exchange traded funds (ETFs) such as the Sprott Physical Platinum and Palladium Trust (ARCA:SPPP) or the ETFS Physical Palladium Shares (NYSEARCA:PALL). ETFs track palladium – or other metals or stocks – like an index fund, but trade like stocks on an exchange.
Finally, investors can gain exposure to palladium by buying shares in palladium mining companies. Russia’s Norilsk Nickel (MCX:GMKN) is the world’s largest palladium producer, but other significant producers include Anglo American Platinum Anglo American Platinum (LSE:AAL), Impala Platinum Holdings (JSE:IMP,OTC Pink:IMPUY) and Lonmin (LSE:LMI), all of which operate PGM mines in South Africa.
In North America, important mining companies in the palladium space include North American Palladium (TSX:PDL), which operates the Lac des Iles palladium mine in Quebec, and Stillwater Mining (NYSE:SWC), which runs the Stillwater and East Boulder mines in Montana. Stillwater also operates a PGM recycling business.