What: Stillwater Mining Company's (NYSE:SWC) shares plummeted 23.6% last month. But that was better than it could have been, since the shares were down nearly 38% at one point.

So what: Stillwater mines for platinum and related metals. Like other commodities, there's a supply/demand imbalance that's left the price of the metals this miner produces in the dumps. And leading into the middle of January, platinum prices were falling -- which helps explain the nearly 40% price decline. It's worth highlighting here that Stillwater's shares fell about 40% in all of 2015.

Around the middle of January, though,  platinum prices started to move higher even though they still ended the month at a lower point than where they started. And Stillwater's shares rose along with them. This is the same thing that happened throughout the precious metals space and was a virtual carbon copy of what happened with Coeur Mining (NYSE:CDE), which ended January down around 11% but was off some 30% at the midpoint of the month. Coeur's focus is silver and gold.

Now what: Stillwater continues to work hard to control what it an, reducing costs and enhancing production. It's actually done a good job, reducing its all in sustaining costs even more than it promised to last year, for example. But as a miner it can't outrun the price vicissitudes of the commodities it sells. Until there's more clarity in the commodity space, Stillwater's shares will remain volatile.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.