Iron ore price jumps to three-month high

The price of iron ore advanced to its highest trading level in more than three months on Wednesday amid signs of a pick-up in demand in the 1.3 billion tonne seaborne iron ore market.

The benchmark 62% Fe import price including freight and insurance at the Chinese port of Tianjin added $0.50 or 0.8% to $62.60 a tonne according to data provided by The SteelIndex, the highest since end-February.

A rally that began mid-April has seen the price rise by more than 34% from record lows struck at the beginning of April. The price is still down by more than a third over the past 12-months, however.

While most industry watchers have laid the blame for the slump on the supply side, a slowdown in China has also put prices under pressure.

Now it seems there are tentative signs that demand may be picking up in the country which consumes 70% of the seaborne iron ore trade.

Port stocks have declined for seven weeks in a row falling to its lowest level since December 2013 at just over 85 million tonnes.

That's down from a peak above 110 million tonnes hit mid-year 2014.

Current stock levels at Chinese ports also constitute slightly more than one month's import cover, the lowest in almost two years.

The country took in 80.2 million tonnes of the steelmaking raw material in April and on a year to date basis compared to 2014 record year is  showing a slight gain. May's custom data is expected to be released early next week.

Reuters quotes Helen Lau, an analyst at Argonaut Securities in Hong Kong, as saying the drop in port stocks is a sign of improvement in demand and a "catalyst for prices hit by oversupply worries."

Although tiny compared to China's, demand in India is also boosting sentiment in the market.

Anglo American, the world's number five iron ore producer with mines in South Africa and Brazil, said yesterday it  tripled its exports to the subcontinent over the past year and expects sales to continue to improve.

Indian imports hit a  record 15 million tonnes last year, but it's significant because the country has moved from being an exporter of 120 million tonnes per year in 2009-2010 to a net importer.

Nevertheless, those oversupply worries may not be going away any time soon.

Andrew Mackenzie, CEO of world number three iron ore producer BHP Billiton  said in a speech in Canberra on Tuesday that “incremental supply, induced during periods of higher prices, will take longer to absorb and this means over-supply may persist for some time."