Chinese scrap at 10-year low pressures iron ore price

The price of iron ore dropped for the tenth session in a row on Monday as investors shift focus to fundamentals after a stimulus package from top consumer China announced last week did little to improve prospects for the industry.

On Monday the benchmark 62% Fe import price including freight and insurance at the Chinese port of Tianjin declined slightly to $50.90 a tonne, the lowest in three months and down 9% in two weeks according to data provided by The SteelIndex. In July, the steelmaking raw material on a spot price basis, fell to a record low of $44.10.

Iron ore miners have had to cope with a surge in supply from the likes of Vale, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and others just as demand from Chinese steelmakers, which import nearly three-quarters of seaborne ore, starts contracting. Just to make life more difficult outside iron ore's top tier, miners are facing another threat.

A month ago a research report by Singapore's Minerals Value Service showed the price to a Chinese coastal mill of producing one tonne of pig iron (including cost and freight of all iron ores, coking coals, sintering and pelletizing costs) had for the first time fallen below scrap priced inside the country.

Scrap supply has not in the past played much of a role in the industry, especially when compared to places like Europe where steelmakers have been known to charge up to 18% scrap to furnaces according to MVS.

That may start to change more rapidly. On Friday ferrous scrap prices in eastern China continued to slide hitting $183 a tonne, the lowest since at least March 2005, when Platts first started tracking domestic scrap prices (heavy melting scrap 6mm and above thick, including 17% value-added tax, delivered to Zhangjiagang, Jiangsu province).

It's striking that Chinese scrap – typically around 90% Fe – now trades for less than 62% iron ore at its 2011 peak.

SEE ALSO: Iron ore miners have new price competition: Chinese scrap
Iron ore miners have new price competition: Chinese scrap