According to a report by S&P Global Platts, Iridium base prices scaled a record high of $6,000/oz on March 19, buoyed by supply issues from South Africa and strong demand from the electrical and electrochemical sector.
A rapid surge in PGM prices
S&P Platts noted that the platinum group metal (PGM) vaulted to nearly three-and-a-half fold over the past three months, from $1,760/oz on Dec. 18.
The Platts New York Dealer iridium price climbed to $5,750-$6,150/oz for the March 12-18 period, from $5,000-$5,750/oz during the previous week.
PGM refiner Johnson Matthey said that its iridium base prices soared 9% on March 12 to reach $6,000/oz, while the iridium base prices of Germany’s Engelhard Materials Services surged by 9% last week to close at $6,000/oz.
South Africa accounts for nearly 81% of the global iridium mine supply. However, the COVID-19 had severely disrupted South African supply in 2020, resulting in the surge in iridium prices.
Increased demand for Iridium
Iridium is critical for several niche products like the temperature-resistant crucibles used to grow synthetic crystals for electronics and telecommunications systems, such as 5G; high-performance spark plugs; medical devices; and iridium-coated electrodes for navel ballast systems.
In 2020, 31% of total iridium demand had come from the electrical sector, 26% from the electrochemical, and 13% from automotive.
According to a research note by Heraeus Precious Metals whose iridium industrial price stood at $6,600/oz, up 8.2% on March 12, the demand for iridium is expected to increase further by the development of the 5G smartphone market, with premium products propping up demand for organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays.
Heraeus noted that the global smartphone shipments are expected to rise 5.5% year on year in 2021, boosted by a post-COVID recovery in demand and 5G device interest, as per the International Data Corporation (IDC).
Heraeus said: “5G is anticipated to be a key driver of growth, boosted by the success of Apple’s full iPhone 12 line-up and selected Samsung Galaxy handsets. IDC expects 5G smartphone shipments to account for more than 40% of global volume in 2021, growing to 69% in 2025.
Costs are declining as more manufacturers release 5G handsets, which will accelerate the rate of adoption. German technology group Merck recently announced a €20 million [$24 million] expansion of its OLED manufacturing capacity at sites in Korea and China to meet growing customer demand in Asia.”