Fiat Chrysler recall could send palladium price soaring

Justina Vasquez
Bloomberg News
The 2016 Jeep Compass is among autos targeted to replace catalytic converters.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s recall of 862,520 gasoline-fueled vehicles could spur additional demand for the palladium market that’s already reeling from shortages.

Replacing the catalytic converters in these vehicles would require an additional 77,000 ounces of palladium, said Miguel Perez-Santalla, sales and marketing manager at refiner Heraeus Metals New York LLC. Prices of the metal that’s used to curb greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles have been climbing to records this year as producers struggle to keep up with demand.

“This eventually will be a bit of a supply shock,” said Maxwell Gold, director of investment strategy at Aberdeen Standard Investments, which oversees $736 billion. “Overall, this does paint a very positive picture of just growing emission standards globally, particularly in the U.S. for palladium and gasoline engines.”

Production of the precious metal will trail consumption by 545,000 ounces this year, Citigroup Inc. said in December. Newer and stricter regulations to curb emissions in gasoline vehicles have been forcing automakers to boost their purchases of palladium, fueling the surge in demand even amid a slowdown in car sales in China, Europe and the U.S.

In the of case of Fiat, the new recall was prompted by a so-called in-use investigation by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as testing done by the car company that was required by agency rules, the regulator said. The EPA routinely tests vehicles driven by consumers to ensure emissions remain within legal limits over time. Repairs required for Fiat vehicles will include replacing components associated with the vehicles’ catalytic converter, a key part of a vehicle’s emissions-control system, the agency said.

About 70 percent of 110,000 ounces of precious metals needed to replace the catalytic converters will be palladium, Perez-Santalla said. While metal from the recalled cars will likely be recycled, helping ease tight supply, “it’s just going to take a few months for it to come back into the system,” he said.

“EPA will continue to investigate other FCA vehicles which are potentially non-compliant and may become the subject of future recalls,” the regulator said in its statement.

Palladium, which is trading at about $1,550 per ounce, could climb to $1,650 if Fiat is able to quickly replace the catalytic converters, Peter Thomas, senior vice president at Chicago-based metals broker Zaner Group, said in a telephone interview.

“The demand could be impactful on this market, and if nothing else could hold these prices at these levels, which we haven’t had ever before,” Thomas said.