Party life’s a gas and that gas is helium – the lighter than air filling for balloons at events and celebrations the world over.
But the cost of having a good time is rising as the price of the gas has soared by around 50% in less than a year.
No one’s having a laugh at the prospect because helium is a necessary component of some vital services.
Industrial uses include getting images from MRI scanners in hospitals, the mix of gases breathed by deep sea divers, producing memory chips for computers, phones and other gadgets and liquid crystal displays (LCD) for TVs and other monitors.
The upward floating price of helium has almost gone unnoticed because the gas is not traded on global markets in the same way as gold and other commodities.
Price varies around the world
Phil Kornbluth, founder of Kornbluth Helium Consulting, who consults on buying helium for commercial clients, explained the price has risen in a short time.
“There’s no magic number. The price of helium varies quite a bit around the world, depending on where you are in the supply chain and whether you’re buying at source and how you’re buying it as a liquid or as a gas, for example,” he said.
“It’s safe to say the price has gone up 50% to 100%, depending on who you are and where you are in the supply chain.”
One of the largest suppliers is the US national helium reserve, which auctions off stocks from time to time. The reserve was set up to hoard helium for supplying US airships at the start of the last century.
Birthday balloons to go pop?
The last auction was in August 2018 and the next is scheduled in 2021.
The price was hiked 135% at the last auction, which wholesalers passed on to end users.
Some suppliers are warning helium is running out and may be rationed – and as balloons filled with the gas account for using 10% of the world’s supply, they are in the line to go pop first.
The good news is the price should come down soon as new supplies come on line in Algeria, Qatar and Russia by 2021.
Helium is an element that exists as a gas and is collected as a by-product from natural gas extraction.