PRECIOUS-Platinum rallies to 3-month high after Amplats overhaul
* Platinum hits three-month high, regains premium over gold
Amplats set to cut platinum output by 400,000/oz
* Palladium reaches highest since March 2012
* Tokyo gold hits record high for second session
By Jan Harvey
LONDON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Platinum prices rallied to three-month highs on Tuesday after the number one producer of the metal, Anglo American Platinum, said it would mothball two South African mines and sell another, cutting output by around 400,000 ounces.
The rally put the platinum price above that of gold for the first time since March, after it traded at a historically unusual discount to the yellow metal for much of last year.
Spot platinum was up 2.1 percent at $1,690 an ounce at 1030 GMT, having earlier touched a high of $1,699.50 an ounce, its strongest since October 9. The metal is up around 10 percent since the start of the year.
Platinum miners have come under heavy pressure after being hit by a wave of strike action in the last year, while contending with rising operating costs and stubbornly depressed platinum prices.
"Anglo Platinum will not be the last company to cut output," S.P. Angel analyst John Meyer said. "We would expect platinum miners to pull back by 25 to 30 percent, which is going to have a severe impact on prices."
"Margins are squeezed to a level where they can't sustain ongoing capex for deep-level operations across all shafts. Reduction in margins means that there has to be a reduction in the number of shafts purely because it constrains capital availability."
Anticipation of Amplats' long-awaited review had already pushed platinum higher on Monday. The move, which will involve cutting 14,000 jobs in moves to restore profits, may provoke a repeat of last year's strikes when about 50 people died.
If that many jobs are lost, it will represent about 3 percent of South Africa's mine labour force and set back government efforts to cut unemployment from over 25 percent.
PLATINUM HELPS LIFT GOLD, PALLADIUM
Platinum's rise also helped drive prices of other precious metals higher. Spot palladium hit its highest since March 2012 at $1,717.50, and was later up 1.5 percent.
Spot gold was up 0.8 percent at $1,680.49 an ounce.
"Platinum is the main driver as the price has now moved back to a premium over gold for the first time since March," Saxo Bank vice president Ole Hansen said. "Gold is also being supported by the fact that we have now managed to close above 200 day simple moving average for a third day."
Concerns over the stability of the U.S. financial system ahead of talks there on managing debt in the coming months are also helping burnish gold's appeal, he said.
"The debt ceiling debate should also offer some support as it once again raises the risk that U.S. growth could be hurt," he said. "Gold is all about re-building confidence and the last few days have done just that. But we're not out of the woods yet, not before we see a break above 1710."
The benchmark gold contract on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange rose to a record high of 4,821 yen a gram as mounting pressure on the Bank of Japan to launch more monetary-easing measures kept the yen near a 2-1/2-year low against the dollar.
Gold buyers in major consumer India held off making fresh purchases on Tuesday as prices rose, but strong physical buying from China is expected to continue in the next few weeks ahead of the Lunar New Year festivities.
South Africa's gold output fell by 32.2 percent by volume in November, highlighting the impact of illegal strikes, while platinum group metals production rose 3 percent compared with the same month in 2011, data showed on Tuesday.
On the wider financial markets, the dollar held steady against a basket of currencies, paring losses it made earlier after Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke said the recovery was still fragile and warned the economy was at risk from political gridlock over the deficit.
Among other precious metals, silver was up 0.9 percent at $31.29 an ounce.