Iron Ore

Profits were down at Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd. in the first half of 2016 and Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are fighting an Australian iron ore mining tax.

Profits Down at HKEX in First Half

Core first-half earnings of the Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Ltd.’s commodity division slumped by 19% as trade in metals declined while hiring linked to a new spot commodities trading platform in China drove up costs, the exchange said on Wednesday.

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HKEX’s second-quarter net profit slumped 38% as falling trading volumes pushed down fees for buying and selling shares and commodities contracts.

BHP, Rio Blast Proposed Australian Iron Ore Mining Tax

Mining giants Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton on Tuesday issued statements attacking proposals for a new Australian mining tax as damaging and unfair. Brendon Grylls, leader of the National Party in Western Australia, has proposed an iron ore levy of $3.86 (Australian $5) a metric ton that would specifically target BHP and Rio.

While demand for iron ore is up in China, the Philippines has shut down its only producer.

Chinese Iron Ore Imports Increase

On July 19th, the iron ore benchmark for immediate delivery to China’s Tianjin port fell by 2% to $55.10 per metric ton, the lowest since July 1st. Chinese iron ore imports rose 8.3% in July from the previous month to hit its second-highest on record, customs data showed on Monday.

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The move followed a significant drop in the most traded benchmark for construction material rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange. Demand for the key steel-making ingredient has increased as Chinese steel mills fired up furnaces on the back of higher prices.

Philippines Shuts Down Lone Iron Ore Miner

The Philippines has suspended the operations of the country’s only iron ore miner due to environmental infractions, officials said on Monday, bringing to eight the number of mineral producers halted in a government crackdown.

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The Southeast Asian nation, the world’s top nickel ore supplier, began an audit of all its metallic mines on July 8, shaking global nickel markets as seven nickel miners were suspended for causing environmental harm.

While India’s Tata Steel’s effort to sell its U.K. assets enters its second round of bids, there’s some good news for the company from the other side of the Atlantic.

The provisional government of Quebec in Canada has decided to invest $133 million (C $175 million)  in Tata Steel’s iron ore project in the region between Quebec and Labrador.

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According to an announcement made by Tata Steel Minerals Canada (TSMC), the company’s Canadian subsidiary, it had been awarded the financial contribution to support the development of its Direct Shipping Ore (DSO) Project. The contribution included an equity stake of $95.72 million (C $125 million) through the Capital Mining Hydrocarbons Fund which supported mining activities in the northern region of Québec and a loan of $38.29 million (C $50 million) through Investment Québec.

Canada Supports Iron Ore

Analysts said the equity/loan assistance was aimed at fueling growth in the mining sector in the region and would also create jobs. TSMC, a joint venture, is developing the iron ore project in Quebec. Tata Steel holds a 94% stake in the JV while the remainder is held by the Toronto-listed New Millennium Corporation.

The DSO project involves mining, crushing, washing, screening and drying the run-of-mine ore, and is expected to produce 4.2 million tons of sinter fines and pellet feed a year.

The finished product will be transported to Sept-Îles, Québec, from where it will be shipped to Tata Steel Europe’s steelmaking facilities.

With the Canadian government’s equity infusion in TSMC, Tata Steel’s stake will come down though it’s not yet clear how much. The Quebec Government’s financial package is in line with a similar financial package proposal by the U.K. Government for Tata Steel’s Port Talbot operations, aimed at rescuing the British steel industry.

Port Talbot Still on the Block

Last week, CNBC TV 18 reported that Tata may keep the Port Talbot unit. Quoting unnamed sources, the report claimed Tata Steel is likely to sell off downstream units in Rostherham, Hartlepool and Stocksbridge, instead. Each of these operations have a 100-million-metric-ton production capacity and together employ about 3,000 workers. Management buyout firm Excalibur and Indian-origin businessman Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty House are said to be in the fray for the assets of the other operations.

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Tata had written down the value of its U.K. steel assets to almost zero and was also exploring a merger of its European business — including its profitable assets in the Netherlands — with German peer ThyssenKrupp.

Vale SA is looking to sell part of its future iron ore output for Chinese cash today and the Philippines’ nickel mining crackdown has claimed its seventh victim.

Vale Brings in Chinese Investors

Brazil’s Vale SA is considering raising as much as $10 billion from the sale of up to 3% of future iron ore output to undisclosed Chinese companies, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

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Under terms of the deal, Vale, the world’s biggest iron ore producer, would receive streaming financing from the companies.

Philippines’ Crackdown Claims 7th Nickel Miner

The Philippine government has suspended the operations of a seventh nickel miner, Claver Mineral Development Corp., a minister said on Thursday, deepening an environmental crackdown that has caused jitters in global nickel markets.

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The Philippines is the biggest supplier of nickel ore to top market China and the suspension of some mines and the risk of more closures sent global nickel prices to an 11-month high of $10,900 a metric ton on July 21.

Rare earths are hitting new price lows as major manufacturers continue to invest in new technologies to substitute them out due to price volatility. Iron ore is still oversupplied, but stockpiles are falling faster than expected.

Substitution is Hindering Rare Earths Demand

Reuters’ Andy Home recently wrote about how large manufacturers are finding substitutions for heavy rare earths in a gambit to avoid the boom and bust price cycles of the magnet and battery metals that previously disrupted their supply chains.

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Japanese automotive giant Honda and its technology partner Daido Steel recently announced a materials breakthrough in the electric motors used in hybrid vehicles. Starting with the next generation of “FREED” minivan due to go on sale later this year, Honda will be using a motor that doesn’t need heavy rare earth metals.

Specifically, it will be the world’s first hybrid engine, a gasoline and electric motor, to dispense with terbium and dysprosium.

“Major deposits of heavy rare earth elements are unevenly (distributed) around the world (…) thus, the use of heavy rare earth carries risks from the perspectives of stable procurement and material costs,” Honda said in a statement.

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A fairly innocuous sounding statement but one that cuts to the heart of the roller coaster history of the rare earths market.

Iron Ore Stockpiles Falling Fast

Iron ore’s wild price gyrations this year may be masking a small, but significant, shift in the underlying fundamentals for the steel-making ingredient. While seaborne iron ore remains a well-supplied market, it appears the level of over-supply has been diminishing faster than many expected, leading to an improvement in the supply-demand balance, Reuters’ Clyde Russell writes.

Essar Steel Minnesota filed for bankruptcy protection after losing its mineral leases in the Iron Range and ThyssenKrupp AG insists it’s still talking to Tata Steel about a possible purchase of European steel mills.

Essar Steel Minnesota Files for Chapter 11

Essar Steel Minnesota LLC  — the U.S. affiliate of India’s shipping, natural resources and power conglomerate Essar Global Groupfiled for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Friday.

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The company’s assets and liabilities are estimated to be worth between $1 billion and $10 billion, according to a court filing in the District of Delaware. The filing was prompted by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D.) giving the order to terminate Essar Steel Minnesota’s lucrative mineral leases on Minnesota’s Iron Range. The company had been told that if it did not repay $66 million in infrastructure costs to the state and also pay its overdue contractor bills that the leases would be terminated.

ThyssenKrupp Says it’s Still in Talks With Tata Steel

Thyssenkrupp AG, Germany’s biggest steelmaker, confirmed on Sunday that it is in talks with India’s Tata Steel about a consolidation of beleaguered European steel mills that are hit by overcapacity, weak demand and cheap imports.

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Tata Steel said on Friday it had suspended the process of selling its troubled U.K. arm while it held talks with potential partners, including Thyssenkrupp, about alternative and more sustainable solutions for its entire European business. In addition to its U.K. operations, Tata Steel Europe also owns the former Hoogovens steel plant in the Netherlands which has been mentioned as part of a sale.

The international mining and metals sectors didn’t take a break for Independence Day. Rio Tinto Group has made its first moves under its new CEO and India is reconsidering its steel tariffs.

Jacques Shelves Rio Iron Ore Project

Rio Tinto Group has shelved its $20 billion Simandou iron ore project in Guinea because of a sustained slump in prices, the company’s new CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques said in an interview with The Times newspaper.

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The world’s second biggest miner by market capitalization had been seeking financing for Simandou, even after a $1.1 billion writedown on the project in February. Last month the Anglo-Australian company submitted a feasibility study to the Guinean government.

But global oversupply of iron ore made the project inviable at this time, Jacques told The Times.

India is Reconsidering Steel Minimum Import Prices

India may alter the list of steel items that attract a minimum import price if the country decides to continue with the measure beyond August, steel secretary Aruna Sundararajan said.

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India imposed the minimum import price on 173 steel products in February, helping cut inbound shipments last month to their lowest level in at least 14 months.

This week in metals, aluminum prices hit a one-month high, even as surplus material in China looked like it would increase as smelters there went back online.

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Even when metals prices were rising across the board in the first quarter, aluminum was the laggard as oversupply still kept investors from buying it and construction demand remained tepid. Thanks to Chinese stimulus that construction demand has shot up and aluminum prices with it.

Aluminum: Smelt All You Want!

Reuters’ Andy Home and our own Stuart Burns both noted that while Beijing is doing everything it can to clean up overproduction in its steel sector — and the resultant pollution that comes with it — there’s no such commitment from the top when it comes to aluminum, mostly because of the state-of-the-art smelters Chinese companies have invested in.

How are Chinese smelters making money? Source: Adobe Stock/Pavel Losevsky

How are Chinese smelters making money? Source: Adobe Stock/Pavel Losevsky.

So, to recap, steel overproduction and pollution is bad but aluminum overproduction and, relatively, smog-free smelting? China is a-okay with that. What could possibly go wrong?

Rio Repositions

Meanwhile, things have gone significantly awry at Rio Tinto Group. The Anglo-Australian multinational miner shook up its organizational structure this week and head of iron ore commodities Andrew Harding was passed over for the CEO job by copper and coal division leader Jean-Sebastian Jacques. Jacques, a native of France, has only been there since 2011. Harding has been with Rio for 25 years and had been expected to replace departing CEO Sam Walsh this month. Read more

In a surprise move, Andrew Harding, the head of iron ore at commodities miner Rio Tinto Group has been passed over as CEO to replace outgoing Sam Walsh on July 2 by relative newcomer to the group, Jean-Sebastien Jacques who only joined in 2011 and has headed up Rio’s copper and coal divisions, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

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Harding has been with Rio for 25 years and had been expected to replace departing Walsh in part due to his experience in iron ore which is central to Rio’s existence. The miner generates about half its revenues and around 90% of its earnings from iron ore sales, just 9% from aluminum and copper and the balance from diamonds and other minerals.

Rio Tinto’s Future

The move is seen as part of future plans for Rio to reduce reliance on iron ore and to divest itself of coal assets. Although the firm would argue otherwise — its cost of production for iron ore is a fraction of what it was five years ago — the firm’s expansion into an already oversupplied market is seen by many as a dead end.

Rio Tinto increased iron ore production by 11% last year to 327.6 million metric tons, and that should rise another 7% to 350 mmt by the end of this year, the Telegraph’s Questor column reports. The miner is not alone as rivals BHP Billiton and Fortescue also ramp up production to offset falling prices.

Source Telegraph

Source: Telegraph

This year, the policy appears to have paid dividends as Chinese demand has risen on the back of a short-term boost from a huge government backed loan splurge at the start of the year, but there are signs the economy there is slowing again. Read more

Brazilian mining company Vale SA will not financially support Samarco, a joint venture with BHP Billiton, if the company is not able to resume operations, Vale’s head of investor relations said on Thursday.

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Rogerio Nogueira told analysts at an event in Sao Paulo that he did not believe Samarco would need financial support, but that in the event its mine was unable to get permission to restart — there was a major disaster at the dam last year when a tailings dam failed last year —  Vale would not fund Samarco. The joint venture’s iron ore mine closed in November.

Vale received a favorable decision this week when a Brazilian judge ruled it would not have to defend itself against a $5.7 billion civil suit in the matter.