Why Palladium Is Suddenly a More Precious Metal

There are clearly some jobs worth promoting that do not involve building crappy tech. Reprising the idea that every job must be good and sensible or, at the very least, awesome, the new chief executive officer of the Westport, Conn.-based investment firm that bought Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co.’s stake in Bank of America Corp. has become really enthusiastic about tracking Palladium, the mined metal he calls “nature’s gold.”

It is a solid metal that both miners and investors love to mine and gather for tantalizing profit margins, with prices topping $3,200 an ounce in January and more than doubling in just the past six months. Now, Michael Peter Jurmez is courting a serious houseboat business of his own, offering to buy boats if prospective buyers can beat Palladium’s historical market value. He’s doing it on eBay, an auction-service Web site where an engineer from Scotland, Richard Jackson, sells a 1980 Queen’s Scotsman minibus at $65,000, with a same-sex marriage license at the back. “He’s now got the biggest piece of Palladium in the world, and he’s offering that to get married,” said Mike Proe, who manages an investment group for Chase Manhattan Bank that owns about 1,000 of the 35-foot boats.

Jackson’s cost would be in the neighborhood of $10,000 per ride, depending on the attractiveness of such things as the quality of the guards’ uniforms and the dilapidated panorama from the vehicle’s cabin. That would be the same as the firm’s first client, a homemaker who owned a Stetson-wearing yacht tugboat that it bought for about $30,000. While the minibus would have to be repaired, removing the moat and redecorating in the galley, the difference between the sides and the bow probably would not be much, lawyers and securities agents say. If the employer wanted a so-called branded boat, it could go for $50,000, but that’s well above the costs for a high-end automobile or electronic equipment.

Yet Jurmez, 28, is not the only investor with a stronger reason to own Palladium than your average yachtsman. Palladium, which measures less than 1 percent of the universe, is supposed to be a “commodity quality” that can be easily traded as well as mined, and ranks among the most sought-after materials, auction experts say. But in the past year, he has put out vague signals that he could trade it if he liked it. Facing low demand, he first promised to sell all 7,500 to 10,000 pounds of production, then reneged. Now, he says, he wants to create a small company and sell part of its inventory. “I’m kind of like the ant who outsmarts the fox,” he said. “I think I’m pretty good at oddballs.”

And while buyers in his past had sought technology gadgets for their boats (porn machines, motorcycles, carpet cleaners), Jurmez really likes building pleasure cruisers that can take 10- and 15-foot long, 11-foot ships. For those with larger boats, he asks investors to support the company’s chartering business, which has been carrying up to 200 vessels a year. Unlike his earlier pitches, he now says, “We’re not doing storage. We’re doing personal transportation,” and he is offering a free one-year charter for heavy machinery companies that want a streamlined system to make their rigs harder to control and combust. It seems to have aroused interest, with a handful of original bids so far.

But what you really want is someone who will have the real Palladium, and it appears Jurmez does. His offer on boats was noticed in the Boston business community—just as Mike Reilly, who ran the NYSE’s domestic options desk in 1979 and ’81 and now runs an internet-based brokerage firm in Newton, Mass., called Wide Advantage Capital Inc., believes in Mr. Jurmez’s promise to “make the market.” “Someone who is scared to death of parking is going to get caught up in a big bidding war for a high-end limousine,” Reilly said. In contrast, “a car dealer with no money is never going to get too rich, because people don’t realize the long-term payoff of owning a car.”

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About Ann Jaye

Ann Jaye Brown is a 28-year-old resident artist at a studio who enjoys planking, writing and badminton. She is energetic and creative, but can also be very greedy and a bit impatient. She is a British Christian who defines herself as straight. She has a degree in chemistry.

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