Platinum is an exceedingly rare, silvery-white precious metal used in jewelry making, electronics components and various industrial applications. About half of all global platinum consumption is for the manufacture of automobile catalytic converters. 
Platinum is exceedingly rare (about 30 times rarer than gold) and found in only a few deposits worldwide. The largest known primary reserves are in South Africa's Bushweld complex, followed by deposits near Norilsk, Russia and the Sudbury Basin, Canada.
Platinum futures contracts are traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange under ticker symbol PL and are delivered every year in January, April, July, October, November, and December. (For more information on commodity tickers, check out the commodity ticker construction page.)
Because so much of the platinum's demand stems from car manufacturers, downturns in the auto industry can significantly affect the metal's price. During the market meltdown in 2008, for example, platinum prices fell 65% from their peak, driven downward in part by faltering car sales worldwide.
In addition, in 2008 platinum experienced a surplus that is expected to continue well into 2009, and perhaps even 2010. This oversupply has also negatively impacted platinum prices.
However, in early 2009, platinum started to regain its strength. As investors returned to the metal, seeking a safe haven, holdings of ETF Securities's Physical Platinum ETF (LSE: PHPT.L) rose 87% over the first quarter of the year.
In April 2009, ETF Securities announced it would launch a bullion-backed platinum ETF in the U.S. (a similar ETF already exists for European investors), which led some to speculate that hoarding bullion for the ETF could cause shortages and drive up prices. Similar concerns were raised about the launch of ETFS's first platinum ETF back in 2007, but the fund's impact on the market was hard to discern at the time, due to roving blackouts in South Africa that had disrupted supply.