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Precious metals outlook hinges on pandemic fight and monetary policy direction

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Precious metals prices declined in the second half of 2021, driven by weak investment and physical demand.
Precious metals prices declined in the second half of 2021, driven by weak investment and physical demand. Photo: © t.max/Shutterstock

This blog is the seventh in a series of nine blogs on commodity market developments, elaborating on themes discussed in the October 2021 edition of the World Bank’s Commodity Markets Outlook.

Precious metal prices trended lower in the second half of 2021, reflecting declining investor sentiment and soft physical demand. Gold prices have been relatively more resilient but were weighed down by outflows from gold-backed exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and slowing central bank purchases. Silver prices slumped on waning industrial demand, while platinum and palladium prices plunged due to weak autocatalyst demand. Precious metal prices are anticipated to ease in 2022, but there is high uncertainty arising from the Omicron variant and monetary policy stances.

Gold prices rose slightly in October and November, after a marginal decline in the third quarter of 2021, supported by lower real interest rates Gold prices have lost strength in the second half of the year, driven by outflows in gold-backed ETFs from North American investors and slowing central bank purchases. The yield on 10-year inflation-indexed U.S. Treasury securities fell to -1.06 percent in November, as a rise in inflation expectations outweighed slight increases in nominal interest rates. Looking forward, the uncertainty over the Omicron COVID variant could push gold prices higher due to safe-haven demand. A tightening of monetary policy, however, could result in higher real interest rates and reduce the appeal of gold.

gold prices and interest rates

Silver prices have retraced markedly since mid-November. Industrial demand for silver, which had been supportive of prices, has waned. China’s manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) has been weak in the second half of 2021 while Japan’s PMI reading has been well below the global average.  Both countries are major users of products containing silver, such as electronics, solar panels, and photographic equipment. Near-term prospects for silver largely rest on the strength of the global economic recovery, which is being tempered by a resurgence of COVID infections, particularly in Europe and the United States.

Top producers and fabricators of Silver

Platinum and palladium prices have fallen sharply since early May, driven by the slump in vehicle production. The shortage of semiconductors has hampered global vehicle production, in turn causing a sharp decline in autocatalyst demand.  Autocatalysts account for one-third and four-fifths of platinum and palladium demand, respectively. Both metals are used in catalytic converters of car engines to reduce emissions. On the supply side, South African mine production has rebounded strongly and has more than offset outages at two Russian mines. Platinum and palladium prices are expected to fall in 2022 due to the continuing semiconductor shortage.

Platinum consumption


Wee Chian Koh

Researcher, Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies, Brunei Darussalam

John Baffes

Senior Agriculture Economist, Development Economics Prospects Group

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