Unless you're a chemist or paleontologist, you've quite possibly never heard of iridium.
The metal is one of the "little brothers" amongst the platinum group elements. The United States used a scant 1,300 kilograms of iridium in 2009, mostly for specialized applications in manufacturing and aerospace.
But iridium may be the best-performing commodity of 2010.
The iridium price broke as high as $720 per ounce this week. Up 70% from the $420 price that prevailed at the end of December 2009. In fact, current iridium prices are the highest we've seen since 1981.
Most of the appreciation has come since mid-February. The iridium market is small and relatively opaque, so the reasons for the rise are hard to pin down. But indications are the price pressure is coming from Asia.
Traders told Platts this week that strong Japanese buying has been driving iridium higher. Chinese demand has also been implicated over the past few weeks.
The cause of the Asian iridium rush is less clear. One of Platts' sources chalked it up to "new applications". While another noted, "Whether they're building inventories or just protecting the future, I'm not sure. But they're not too discreet about the buying."
One interesting observation is that demand for platinum and palladium has been strong in Asia of late, due to the creation of PGE-backed exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Could someone be planning an iridium ETF as a sequel?
Or it may just be regular supply-demand tightness. Most reports have it that there isn't a lot of iridium supply around, and users may simply be trying to ensure adequate stocks.
Whatever the reason, this is a notable price move and a market that bears watching. Stay tuned.
By. Dave Forest of Notela Resourcesbr />