NEW YORK: Platinum rose to a three-month high on Monday, and is on the brink of being on parity with gold, as the prospect of further supply outages in South Africa triggered strong buying by commodity funds.
Gold edged up, but trailed platinum's rise, helped by gains in agricultural and energy commodity prices.
Platinum prices received a boost on news that South Africa's Anglo American Platinum is likely to sell or shut its Union mine as part of a review of its platinum business by parent Anglo American.
Expectations that such action will further tighten the platinum market, which was expected to post a deficit this year, is pushing platinum back towards parity with gold for the first time since April last year.
"Platinum prices definitely have room to move higher," said Howard Wen, metals analyst at HSBC.
Wen cited strong performance of the US platinum exchange-traded funds and an increase in bullish bets by hedge funds and money managers showed by CFTC data.
Spot platinum was up 1.5 percent at $1,652.50 an ounce by 11:43 a.m. EST (1643 GMT), having earlier touched its highest since mid-October at $1,660 an ounce.
US April NYMEX platinum futures gained $26.90 to $1,658.10 an ounce.
Platinum's discount to gold narrowed to around $10 from about $140 at the start of the year.
Analysts are expecting the review at Amplats, the world's top platinum producer, will lead to at least some shaft closures due to soaring costs and falling profits.
Recent encouraging US auto sales data also boosted fund buying in platinum and palladium, which are mostly used in catalytic converters to clean exhaust fumes in vehicles.
Palladium rose 0.9 percent to $703.50.
GOLD EDGES UP, AWAITS BERNANKE
Spot gold was up 0.3 percent at $1,666.40 an ounce, while US COMEX gold futures for February delivery were up $6.10 an ounce at $1,666.70.
Bullion investors remained wary towards gold after it recorded its biggest quarterly drop in more than four years in the last three months of 2012.
Financial markets were awaiting a speech later in the day by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Attention will focus on any further indications of how long the US central bank's latest bond buying program will last.
In the longer term, gold may derive support in coming months from discussions over the raising of the US debt ceiling.
"We view the recent sell-off as a good entry point to re-establish fresh tactical longs in gold before the run up to the debt ceiling debate, which we view as a likely catalyst for higher gold prices," Goldman Sachs said in a note.
Goldman, however, said that it expects gold prices to decline as better US economic data overrides further easing.
Silver was up 1.3 percent at $30.84 an ounce.