Demand for ruthenium is expected to fall this year because of high prices and greater use of recycled material in the electronics industry, Johnson Matthey said in a report on Monday.

Ruthenium prices started 2007 at $610 an ounce, jumped to $870 in February and ended the year at $415, the London-listed company said.

The metal is a byproduct of platinum production. Prices are currently at around $350 an ounce.

Ruthenium used in new technology for making hard disks is likely to rise, Johnson Matthey said.

But a continued focus on inventory control and process improvements will lead to higher recycling.

Demand for ruthenium overall fell by 32.1 percent last year to 1.14 million ounces.

Consumption of metal in the electronics industry -- particularly in the manufacturing of perpendicular magnetic recording (or PMR) hard disks -- was the primary driver behind this change, Johnson Matthey said.

High ruthenium prices created an intense pressure to reduce working costs among end-users, encouraging refining of this material. Additional refining capacity came on stream during 2007, allowing much more of this metal to be reprocessed.

Ruthenium-based pastes are also used in the manufacture of plasma panels used for televisions and computer screens.

Plasma screen manufacturers were able to cut the ruthenium content of pastes dramatically, Johnson Matthey said.

Supplies were hit by mining disruptions in South Africa, but producers in the country were able to meet demand from stocks.

(Reporting by Pratima Desai; editing by Christopher Johnson)

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