Platinum and palladium exchange traded funds dramatically lagged gold in 2011 in the metals category, but a pickup in the global economy could boost the ETFs this year and help close the performance gap.

Funds focused on these metals have traded in Europe for years, but they are relatively new for U.S. investors and markets.

“Among commodities, precious metals like gold have been widely adopted as inflationary hedges and ‘safe-haven’ assets because of their traditional store of value. Investors should be aware however, that despite its precious metals designation, platinum is widely used in industrial applications and is likely to fluctuate with economic ups and downs,” Abraham Ballin for Morningstar wrote in an analyst report.”If companies using platinum in their manufacturing process produce less, platinum prices–and the ETF–are likely to suffer.” [What Gold, Platinum ETFs are Saying About the Economy]

Platinum and palladium enjoyed high prices in 2009, after a supply glut gave way to renewed demand for the metals. However, the Japanese earthquake in March ended the run. [ETF Spotlight: Palladium]

Both platinum and palladium are used in jewelry production. Palladium is used to make white gold. Both metals are key to the auto industry, with the catalytic converter the most popular piece of equipiment that uses platinum. Dental fittings, turbine blade production and cancer treatments are some of the other drivers that use platinum.

As automakers are boosting production and some signs of recovery are emerging in some economies, demand could once again outstrip supply, signaling an investment opportunity.

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