The other night at a dinner party in London, talk turned to how one of the couples had just been robbed of a precious metal. The target was not jewellery but the palladium in the catalytic converter of their hybrid car — the vehicle had been hijacked and the device sawn off. Criminals respond to markets as surely as everyone else and the theft of converters to strip for palladium, platinum and rhodium has become commonplace. As palladium has overtaken gold to become the most valuable precious metal, 5g of the silver-white element in some converters is worth £170. Who knew that a car exhaust could be so desirable? When the metal you drive is worth more than the metal you wear, something odd is going on. The rise in the price of palladium and fall in the price of platinum has nothing to do with vanity. Sales of diesel cars, which use platinum in catalytic converters, sagged following the Volkswagen emissions scandal; drivers have turned to petrol vehicles, which use palladium. The vol...

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