China Goes [Wild For] Platinum

China’s Young Platinum Market, Already The World’s Largest, Expanding In “Blank Slate” Of Interior

Platinum jewelry by domestic brands like Qeelin is wildly popular throughout Mainland China

Platinum jewelry by domestic brands like Qeelin is wildly popular throughout Mainland China

Platinum has found a highly receptive audience in China over the last couple of decades, with the country becoming the world’s largest platinum market in 2000 and maintaining that position, virtually unchallenged, for the last nine years. This week, precious metal fabricator Johnson Matthey Plc. discussed the industry view that China will display sustainable growth in demand for platinum as second- and third-tier cities, virtual “blank slates” that create demand as people start to join the ranks of the country’s expanding middle class.

“We see China as the sustainable large platinum jewelry market because it is still in its infancy,” Peter Duncan, general manager of Johnson Matthey, told Dow Jones Newswires on November 17. “I think Chinese platinum jewelry demand will be around three-quarters of a million ounces and that will be the starting point it will grow from.”

China is the new Japan in terms of platinum jewelry consumption, Johnson Matthey added. “Japan has traditionally been the major consumer of platinum jewelry; it was the number one buyer of platinum for jewelry [fabrication] during the economic boom years,” noted Mr Duncan.

As demand for platinum for automobile components drops in the wake of plummeting auto demand in traditional markets — despite a surge in demand in emerging economies — China’s appetite for platinum jewelry is buoying industry hopes for the remainder of 2009 and most of 2010. Though there are expectations that demand in developed economies should bounce back some time in 2010, at least in earnest, at the moment China more or less monopolizes revenue projections for platinum industry executives. 

As the FT pointed out, the Chinese platinum market in 2009 has nearly doubled over its takings in the previous year. Although some of this undoubtedly comes down to the effects of the global economic crisis, the extent of platinum’s comeback this year is cause for celebration for luxury jewelry brands:

Demand in China’s platinum jewellery market will double to record levels this year, acting as a counterweight to weak demand from carmakers, according to Johnson Matthey, the precious metals refiner.

It said lower platinum prices at the start of the year had reignited Chinese buying interest, leading to a “dizzying increase” in jewellery demand that it forecast would jump 106 per cent to 1.75m troy ounces (net) in 2009.

Although the doubling in growth seen in 2009 is unlikely to reappear in 2010 as prices stabilize, it looks as if China’s status as the top platinum market will remain steady for years to come, unless consumption in other highly populated countries like India suddenly sees a significant leap.