Crude oil benchmark price provider enters iron ore market

Clearing house Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) – provider of the international benchmark for crude oil in the form of Brent – is entering the iron ore business.

ICE will kick off with two iron-ore futures contracts on February 11 based on the CFR import price of 62% iron ore fines at China's Tianjin port in the north of the country near Beijing provided by The Steelindex.

Although the futures contract market has grown tremendously – iron-ore swaps on the SGX in Singapore almost tripled to a record high of 109 million tonnes (217,803 lots) last year – it still only makes up a fraction of the industry.

Unlike precious metals and copper, the bulk of price-setting is still made under quarterly contracts between major suppliers and consumers. The iron ore spot market is a fairly recent phenomenon.

The iron ore business is dominated by China – the country's blast furnaces consume more than 60% of the more than 1 billion tonnes seaborne iron ore trade.

Iron ore has pulled back from 15-month highs set early January when the commodity came within sight of $160 a tonne.

On Monday Tianjin iron ore was changing hands at $148.40 a tonne – still up an astonishing 70% from its September lows.

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Image of ice fishing on the Hai river in Tianjin by galexkeene on Flickr