Continued industrial buying and a lack of offers pushed the bid/ask spread for ruthenium to the highest level in two and a half years this week, market sources said.
The Platts New York Dealer ruthenium price range rose to $50-$65/oz from $40-$50/oz last week. Some market sources reported bids as low as $43 and sales as high as $68, although for small volumes.
But most sources agreed that industrial consumers, especially those in East Asia, had been in the market buying.
"It jumped a little bit in the Far East last night," one refiner/recycler said Thursday, putting this week's range of physical deals at $50-$60/oz.
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"I heard $65 overnight, but I didn't see it. There's not a lot being offered yet at these levels, so people are accumulating [ruthenium] apparently," he added.
Ruthenium buying appeared to pick up in overnight Asian trading April 5, one day after the Ching Ming Festival in China.
Base prices of major European refiners Johnson Matthey of the UK and Engelhard Materials Services (BASF) of Germany jumped to $52/oz and $50/oz, respectively, the morning of April 5 from $47 the previous evening.
JM ended the week at $52/oz, while Engelhard closed the week at $55. Both refiners finished last week at $45/oz.
One European dealer who put this week's range at $55-$72/oz said he had been able to make multiple sales in Asia as prices were rising.
"I was talking to my Chinese colleagues who are in the market all the time, and they were saying that in the Asian market, $80/oz isn't far off," he said.
One US dealer said industrial consumers may have been lulled into a sense of complacency as ruthenium prices stayed low for so long.
"This is a market that was dead for two years, and a lot of the industrials were playing a waiting game," one US physical dealer said, putting the range at $50-$68/oz.
"They were working down inventory, and maybe now we've hit an inflexion point where inventories got so low, people started hoarding and the prices started gaining momentum, and that created a $18/oz spread for the week," he said.
Some PGM miners in South Africa claimed to be sold out of ruthenium for a couple of months, the dealer noted.
"Once people started catching wind of that, along with consistent bidding from Asian industrials and a couple of traders hoarding and lifting offers, that increased confusion," he said.
"So it doesn't surprise me that we have a really wide range this week, because that's exactly what's been going on."
Ruthenium is used in computer hard-disk sensors, and in electrical contacts and film chip resistors. But speculation has risen that a new application has surfaced.
A scientific paper released in February suggested ruthenium could be used as a chemical catalyst, similar to platinum, palladium and rhodium.
But market sources have noted that higher ruthenium prices would make such an application impractical on widespread scale.
--Nick Jonson, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Valarie Jackson, email@example.com