While Gold, Silver, and Platinum bullion prices have shown some signs of strengthening in the last few weeks, Ruthenium prices continue to settle to a low price not seen in ca 3 years. Today, on the EIB Ruthenium opened at US$100/toz.  Ruthenium is largely a technical metal and its demand picture should not to be compared directly with other precious metals like Pt, Ag, and Au (“Bling” Metals) which experience price pressure from global jewelry and numismatic markets.  Gold in particular is acquired by government treasuries and by investors on a speculative basis. Gold is subject to prompt valuation changes based on little more than psychological inflections in the marketplace.

The more technical (as opposed to Bling) PGM metals seem to rise and fall as a function of the strength of the application.  Ruthenium sees considerable application in semiconductors, disc drives, turbine engine alloys (soon?), and chloralkali electrodes. To the extent these applications are in high demand, Ru prices will be strong.

Other technical metals like Palladium, Rhenium, Iridium, Rhodium, and Osmium are somewhat less inclined to the kind of volatility that the Bling PGM metals show. Rhodium, however, has shown a staggering price drop in the last half of 2008. This is due in large part to plummeting demand for automobile catalytic converters.

Looking back at the February 2007 high of US$870/toz price of Ruthenium, I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t a sign of low confidence in the market by the airline industry planners? Ru prices skyrocketed on news of new turbine blade technology that required significant amounts of Ru in the Rhenium alloy blade composition. But the demand never materialized and Ru prices fell steeply then and continue to fall to this day. Apparently orders for engines (and planes?) did not follow. The year 2008 saw downsizing of airline route service and fleet numbers.