By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief

Comparing year-end metal prices between 2021 and 2020, a stark difference materializes between base metals and precious and platinum group metals (PGMs).

From aluminum to zinc, base metal prices surged in 2021. Tin prices climbed the most (82%) during 2021 from $21,350 per metric ton (mt) to $38,860/mt. Primarily used for soldering in electronics, tin production in Myanmar and Malaysia was hindered by pandemic-related outages at the mines. Aluminum prices grew from $2,027.50 to $2,818.45/mt or 39%. Aluminum rose steadily throughout the year, reaching a $3,11.50/mt crescendo in mid-October before falling to $2,548.00/mt in early November. Similarly, zinc prices increased 27% from $2,785/mt to $3,536/mt, hitting a 10-year high of $3,794.50/mt in mid-October. Copper rose from $7,914/mt ($3.60/lb) to nearly $10,500 ($4.77/lb) in May and then pulled back to around the $9,500/mt ($4.32/lb) level for the rest of the year.

The pandemic and other regional issues affected production and shipments of nonferrous base metals from the mines. More recently, Europe’s energy crisis has caused aluminum and zinc smelters to idle production. Stocks at the European warehouses of the London Metal Exchange have been depleted.

Gold started the year at $1,950 per ounce (oz) before dropping below $1,700/oz in March. The yellow metal regained some steam and steadily climbed back to $1,900/oz at the end of May. During June, it pulled back to $1,750/oz and remained range bound for the rest of the year between $1,750/oz and $1,850/oz. Silver started the year at $27.51/oz, climbed into the high 20s and then steadily declined throughout the year.

With PGMs, palladium started the year at $2,433/oz and climbed to nearly $3,000/oz by May and then steadily pulled back throughout the year. Platinum followed suit starting at $1,088/oz, growing to $1,300/oz in February before steadily declining throughout the year.

No one knows what the future holds, but interest rate hikes in 2022 could create tough sledding for precious metals. PGM performance is tied to the automotive sector, which currently hinges on microchip supplies. Demand for base metals and minor metals remains high and inventories remain low, which is a recipe that always bodes well for the miners.