Iron Ore

A recent Financial Times article lays the blame for falling iron ore prices in China firmly at the door of Australia’s Department of Industry Innovation and Science, whose latest quarterly report predicted average prices in China would fall to $65 per metric ton this year before ultimately declining further to $51 per mt.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The FT quoted the department’s report saying prices would be weighed down by the combined impact of ongoing growth in low-cost supply and soft demand.

Source: Financial Times

While we don’t doubt that investors will have taken notice of the department’s report, the fact is analysts have been calling for a fall in the iron ore price for months now. Indeed, the rising tide of supply has been expected to weigh on prices for much of the last six months, such that continued price resilience and robust demand have caught some by surprise. Read more

Late last week, Indian media was rife with reports of Vedanta Resources PLC Chairman Anil Agarwal making a “surprise” bid for about 13% of mining giant Anglo American PLC for $2.4 billion, even as the British newspapers headlined the development as a “raid.” Anglo American owns De Beers, one of the world’s largest diamond exploration and mining companies.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The move to acquire the shares was made through Agarwal’s personal investment firm Volcan Investments in London.

Here’s the lowdown on Anglo American: The U.K.-headquartered Group, with operations in South Africa, North and South America, Asia and Europe, has revenue of $23 billion, EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) amount to $6.1 billion, and it has a market value of over $20 billion. In addition to diamonds, Anglo is a global player in platinum and base metals and minerals — it mines copper, nickel, niobium and phosphates. It also sells commodities such as iron ore and manganese, metallurgical coal and thermal coal.

When the 13% shares are acquired, Agarwal’s Volcan will be the second-biggest shareholder after the South African Government investment firm Public Investment Corp., which owns 14%. Volcan, said news reports. Volcan intends to finance the investment through mandatory exchangeable bonds. Led by JPMorgan Chase & Co., the bond sale will take place on or around April 11, the closing date.

Agarwal is the founder of Vedanta but he said he doesn’t intend to make a takeover offer for Anglo American, though a merger between the two failed last year. Incidentally, in 2010, Vedanta acquired Anglo American’s portfolio of zinc assets in Namibia, South Africa and Ireland.

Agarwal told the Sunday Times that he “liked” Anglo’s entire balanced portfolio, both in South Africa and elsewhere.

Some years ago, through his entities, Agarwal had also signed an agreement with the South African government for sharing mining technology.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

He said he would be “fully supportive of the board, management and strategy”.

Metal trader turned mining tycoon Agarwal started as a scrap dealer way back in 1975, and his has been a rags to riches story so far but we’ll have to wait and see if his interest in Anglo American is more than just that of a minority investor.

As one might misquote Mark Twain, we have been here before.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

In 2016, analysts were queued up to predict the iron ore price was going to collapse only for it continue its relentless rise. The recent pull back from $90 per metric ton has brought a fresh crop of dire predictions. Yet maybe, just maybe, there is more validity this time around for caution as to future price direction. There are a number of factors, each of which individually does not signal a price reversal but collectively suggests iron ore prices later this year could be lower than they have been in the first quarter.

Why Iron Ore Prices Might Really Fall

An article in the Australian Financial Review quotes analysts saying, the strength of recent pricing is encouraging Chinese domestic production to increase. In the first half in 2016 it was averaging a 220 million mt per year run rate, but rose to 280 mmt per year in the second half of the year. At the same time, global supply continues to rise with not just increased shipments from Australia but also number three miner Vale SA expanding supply from its $14 billion S11D mine. Read more

The Federal Reserve is hinting at multiple short-term interest rate increases this year, a sign that the central bank expects the recent economic surge to continue and wants to limit the possible impact of inflation.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Minutes from the Fed’s two-day meeting Jan. 31-Feb. 1 show that the tax cuts and spending proposals floated by the Trump administration continue to loom large over the central bank’s decisions. While the Fed chose to leave its interest rates unchanged at the meeting three weeks ago, investors widely expect two to three more rate hikes this year, perhaps as early as March, as the Fed continues on its path of gradually raising interest rates to combat gathering inflation.

Yet the central bank emphasized that it would adjust the pace of rate increases in line with the economy’s performance.

Fortescue Reports $1.2 Billion Profit

Australia’s Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. reported yesterday a 383% rise in interim net profit to $1.2 billion, surpassing the $319 million in the year-earlier period on the back of a surprise surge in iron ore prices… somehow this still fell short of market expectations.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Analysts had forecast profit for the six months to Dec. 31 of about $1.5 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data.

You may feel it cynical to say anyone would engage in a blue sky thinking if someone else is going to pay for it, but you have to question whether Voestalpine AG and its partners would be embarking on a research program that appears to have little prospect of economic viability in the next 20 years if the European Union was not funding the lion’s share of €18 million.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine, Siemens of Germany and Austrian renewable energy company Verbund party are building an experimental facility to economically produce hydrogen from water, which would then be used in place of coking coal for steelmaking. You may remember that my colleague, Jeff Yoders, noted that Voestalpine touted research into using hydrogen to reduce iron ore at its new DRI facility in Texas when the facility opened last year.

Voestalpine Corpus Christi

Voestalpine’s $750 million direct-reduced iron ore facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, could one day be fueled by hydrogen and not natural gas. Image: Jeff Yoders.

By the consortium’s own admission, an economically viable hydrogen process could take 20 years but should it eventually prove successful the benefits in decarbonizing a range of energy intensive industries such as ceramics, aluminum, glass, and cement in addition to steel could dramatically reduce emissions from one of the largest sources of industrial CO2 emissions. Read more

As the new year dawns, we turn our eyes toward the metal markets of 2017. Will the bull run of 2016 continue? What will be the standout performer of the metals we track? Will New Coke finally make a comeback as Even Newer Coke? Only to re-reintroduce Coke Classic in all its aluminum-encased glory? We have predictions. Lots of them.

Steel on Wheels

That’s right, the North American steel market is picking up steam and chugging toward expanded production and renewed profitability for many of the companies we track. Contributor James May said this week that flat products will enjoy higher demand while hot-rolled coil capacity will expand thanks to a combination of new capacity going online (Big River Steel‘s plant is set to open) and the trade policies of the incoming Trump Administration.

Iron Ore Overseas

China consumes over 70% of the world’s seaborne iron ore and a strong year for the Chinese economy bolstered the steelmaking raw material from from $40 per metric ton to $70/mt in global markets last year, an increase that helped re-energize the bottom lines of mining majors Rio Tinto Group, Vale SA, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

This week, Sohrab Darabshaw pointed out that that was cold comfort to smaller miners in India who are still hamstrung by high export taxes and can’t get their ore into China or other lucrative world markets. That could change soon, but MetalMiner Co-Founder Stuart Burns was even more cautious, reminding us that physical iron ore prices were influenced by a rampant futures market last year.

Source: Adobe Stock/Geargodz

“The interplay of the futures market, physical demand from steel mills, and seaborne iron ore supply has too many variables to predict 2017 and ’18 with any certainty,” he said.

Trumping Trade

While some of the markets are still murky, one thing we all agreed on this week was, once Donald Trump is installed as President of the United States, 2017 certainly won’t be boring when it comes to international trade. Read more

After more than four years of languishing, some hope’s been rekindled in India’s iron ore mining sector.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

Ore production jumped 22% between April and October, according to figures released by the government. Iron ore production stood at 100 million metric tons during the resurgence, against 81 mmt during the same April to October period a year ago. What’s brought even more cheer is the news that exports, too, jumped 9 times their previous level, to 9 mmt from last April to September, as compared to 1 mmt, the same period last year.

Export Taxes

With a steep price hike in global markets aided by protectionist measures for the domestic steel industry, will India see a resurgence in iron ore exports? Not so fast.

India has plentiful iron ore stockpiled but taxes are holding up exports. Source: Adobe Stock/nikitos77.

The protectionist measures imposed by India’s government previously included an export duty tax of 30% on high-grade iron ore. Many within the mining sector are of the opinion that the export tax must go, or at the very least be reduced, to boost exports. Read more

By anyone’s reckoning, iron ore and coking coal had a stellar year in 2016. Driven by infrastructure investment and a robust construction market, Chinese imports of our iron ore could top 1 billion metric tons for the first time in 2016. Prices more than doubled in the space of 12 months and the supply-demand situation seemed to be largely in balance for much of the year.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

After topping $80 per mt in early December, prices eased back a little toward the end of the year prompting many to ask “have we seen the peak in iron ore prices?” Mills typically cut output during the quieter winter months when construction demand slows. Many steel mills have already curbed output due to chronic smog alerts across northern China.

Chinese Demand

Seasonally, it would not be unusual if iron ore prices remained subdued up to the Chinese New Year and then picked up in preparation for the peak production months of late spring and summer. But, while Chinese demand defied many expectations of a slowdown in 2016, the recent softening of both iron ore and coking coal raw material prices, and the price of some finished steel products over the last week or 10 days, has lent support to some analysts’ predictions that we could be seeing markedly lower Iron ore prices throughout this year and next. Read more

In recent weeks the Dalian and Zhengzhou commodity exchanges and the Shanghai Futures Exchange have all toughened trading requirements several times.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

The measures imposed include raising trading margins, hiking transaction fees and imposing trading limits in attempt to tamp down speculative trading. Reuters’ Clyde Russell referred to the situation as China having “thrown the world’s commodity producers and traders a massive party.”

HRC and CRC prices in China continue to rise. Source: MetalMinerIndex

HRC and CRC prices in China rising through November. Source: MetalMinerIndX.

This year saw most analysts surprised by the strength of both China’s coal and iron ore imports, which led to rallies in the prices of both commodities. Chinese imports of iron ore jumped to the third-highest on record in November with 91.98 million metric tons up 13.8% from the previous month, taking the year-to-date gain to 9.2% compared with the same period in 2015, according to Reuters. Read more

While this year’s spectacular rebound in iron ore prices has been a godsend for the world’s biggest miners, it has not gone high enough for smaller, less-efficient producers that still have pits shuttered and equipment idle.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The price of the steelmaking material has nearly doubled in 2016 to above $80 a metric ton, a boon for miners such as Vale, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto which extract the material at a cost of less than $20 per mt.

ABI Limps Out of 2016

Coming off a modest increase after two consecutive months of contraction, the Architecture Billings Index recorded another small increase in demand for design services. As an economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects an approximate nine to 12 month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) reported the November ABI score was 50.6, essentially unchanged from the mark of 50.8 in the previous month. This score reflects a slight increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings).