NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Although they tend not to generate the same wild fanfare as their gold and silver counterparts, the platinum group of metals could be in store for gains as we prepare to head into the second half of 2011.Investors can gain direct access to these industrious metals through physically-based ETFs including the ETFS Physical Platinum Shares ( PPLT) and ETFS Physical Palladium Shares ( PALL). Alternatively, both platinum and palladium can also be found underlying physically-backed precious metal basket funds such as ETFS Physical Precious Metal Basket Shares ( GLTR) and ETFS Physical White Metal Shares ( WITE). So far, this year has been difficult for this class of precious metals; as silver and gold have generated headlines and flirted near record highs, platinum and palladium have largely flown under the radar. Year to date, both PALL and PPLT have lagged other precious metal options. PALL, the worst performer among the bullion-backed precious metal ETFs, has had a particularly rough ride. Despite the market's gains and ongoing investor interest in precious metals, the fund has remained locked in negative territory over the first five months of the year. Although their performance in recent months has been lukewarm, these two precious metal players may see a lift in the near term. That's because the state of the auto industry has and will continue to play a major role in directing the performance of these two metals. Both platinum and palladium are used extensively in the production of catalytic converters. Therefore, I have often urged investors with exposure to these metals to keep a close eye on the ongoing global automotive sector recovery. As noted in a recent Associated Press report, Toyota ( TM) appears to be the on track for a comeback following the devastating March earthquake. Although it has suffered a notable decline in sales since the Pacific quake, the auto giant is forecasting that, thanks to a stronger than predicted recovery, output will recover back to 90% capacity in June. The production resurgence from Toyota and other Japanese car players should provide both palladium and platinum with a welcomed boost. While the prospects for platinum and palladium will improve as car companies continue along the road to recovery, the supply picture appears to point to strength as well. As MarketWatch pointed out earlier this week, palladium is currently facing its largest shortage in three decades. According to the analyst survey cited, supply deficits could cause the price of palladium to jump over 20% by the year's end.
The combination of an improving global automobile industry and supply shortages is painting an optimistic picture for palladium and platinum as we move ahead, and funds like PALL and PPLT may prove attractive in the coming weeks and months. However, it is important to note that these two components of the precious metals industry tends to behave a volatile manner. Therefore, while it may be tempting to dive headfirst into either of these funds, both are best approached conservatively. By using PALL or PPLT in combination with a gold-based product like iShares Gold Trust ( IAU), investors can construct a well-diversified precious metal portfolio. Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.