Ruthenium Drops to 8-Year Low as Ipad Demand Hurts Hard-Disk Use

Ruthenium slid to an eight-year low on reduced demand for the material used to coat hard disks as consumers favor computer tablets including Apple Inc.’s iPad and smartphones and as manufacturers used metal from inventories.

The metal, also used in the electrochemical industry, slid 33 percent this year and is set for a third successive annual decline. Purchases slipped due to growing demand for tablets and smartphones that use flash technology, rather than traditional hard-disk drives that rely on spinning platters, according to Mitsubishi Corp. International (Europe) Plc.

Ruthenium usage dropped 32 percent to a three-year low of 679,000 ounces in 2012, London-based Johnson Matthey Plc estimates. Flash storage is faster and more efficient at storing and accessing data than traditional spinning disks. Global shipments of desktop and laptop personal computers will decline 11 percent in 2013, while tablet sales will increase 68 percent, market researcher Gartner Inc. estimated in June.

“The big area of demand that’s really supported the price and purchasing over the last few years hasn’t been there in the way that it once was,” Jonathan Butler, a precious metals strategist at Mitsubishi in London, said today by phone. “There’s been some stock building over the last couple of years which means manufacturers haven’t necessarily needed to go to the market quite so much.”

Ruthenium dropped 10 percent, the most since February 2009, to $60 an ounce by 1:40 p.m. London time, according to Johnson Matthey data on Bloomberg. That’s the lowest price since March 2005 and 93 percent below the $870 peak reached in February 2007. Last year’s demand in ounces was less than 10 percent that of platinum, Johnson Matthey estimates.

‘Quite Attractive’

“Looking at these prices, from an industrial user perspective, they’re quite attractive,” Butler said. “There’s still very much a role for hard-disk drive storage, particularly for server farms where you generally need large amounts of data storage.”

Rhodium, mainly used in car autocatalysts and also in chemical and glass industries, fell 6.5 percent this year to $1,010 an ounce, reaching a nine-year low in July. Iridium, used in spark plugs and for growing metal oxide crystals, slumped 29 percent this year to $750 an ounce and reached the lowest since 2010 this month.

Platinum fell 4 percent this year to $1,477.85 an ounce and palladium lost 0.5 percent to $700.90 an ounce. Both metals are mainly used in vehicle pollution-control devices and jewelry.

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