The times appear to be changing as far as the economy is concerned. Some economists look to metals as a bellwether of things to come. What are metals saying about the upcoming year economically?

Analysts, looking for a sign, focus on demand for relatively obscure metals such as rhodium. Rhodium is used in car parts with approximately 80% used in catalytic converters. Unlike precious metals – gold and platinum – metals like rhodium are not traded on commodity exchanges. This means that price increases are due to increasing demand by producers and users of the metal.

Since rhodium is up 60% since mid-October, this is a good sign for the auto and auto-related industry, which is 4% of the U.S. GDP and employs 10% of the total workforce. Similarly, platinum and palladium jumped 56% and 117% respectively. Both metals are also primarily used in catalytic converters. An economic rebound will push the prices of these metals even higher due to increasing demand.

In the commodity-trading world, metals were the best performers in 2009. In the case of commodities, prices are affected by demand as well as the speculation of demand. When investors believe an industrial metal will be in demand due to an improving economy, they buy the metal as an investment. Copper, which has many industrial uses, was up 139% in 2009, ending the year at $3.3275/pound. Copper hit a record high of $3.4290 in early 2010 trading. A strike at Chile’s largest copper mine may cause further price increases as demand pinches supply. Exclusive of the effects of the strike, analysts believe copper prices could gain 10% over the next six months.

Lead – used in car batteries – more than doubled in 2009. Zinc was also up 125% last year. Aluminum gained “only” 50% due to some recent oversupply issues. Analysts believe the rising prices of base metals signal good times ahead for the economy because it is rare that all base metals will rise without some coming economic growth.

A further metal-related economic sign is the price of iron ore, which rose to a 2009 high at year-end in China, the largest buyer. Iron ore prices have risen 65-70% above 2009 lows, with regional increases of 5-7% being expected in January alone. 2010 could see a further increase in iron ore and other steel-related commodity demand and prices because global steel demand is expected to increase 9.2%.

Mobile Tagging
Another sign of the times can be seen on this page and throughout this issue of Industrial Heating. It’s called a Mobile Tag, and it allows you to find out more about something with a direct online link. The way it works is as follows. From a properly equipped mobile phone, simply snap or scan a Tag image anywhere you see it – in editorials or advertisements (e.g., p. 27) throughout the issue. You may begin to notice the tags in other publications and on signs as well. The Tag provides instant access to a variety of web-based information.

In order to try it out, all you need to do is download the free Tag reader on your web-enabled camera phone. When you see a Tag, snap or scan it to interact with the world around you in new ways. The Tag reader can be found by going to gettag.mobi with your mobile phone.

The Tag on this page will automatically display this editorial on your phone for future reading. Other Tags may do the same, or they may direct you to additional article or column material that wasn’t contained in print. In this way, Tagging allows you to interactively dig deeper using the resources of the web while reading a print magazine.

We realize that many readers of this, and any, magazine might want to take a break from the busyness of the web. You may not be looking for a way to connect your magazine to the web. That’s fine. You can ignore the tags if you choose. But for those looking to make their magazine reading more interactive or wanting to save an article for later reading on your mobile device, Mobile Tags might be just what you are looking for.

If you are interested, try it out. Keep watching for tags in the coming issues of Industrial Heating as a sign that times continue to change, and we want to respond appropriately to deliver the latest industry information to you in a form that meets your needs. IH