Iron ore prices hit the lowest level since November 2009 on Tuesday as the commodity crashed 4.6% closing at $94.80. The dive proved a drag for producers of the commodity, particularly companies investing heavily to expand their production capacity.
Iron ore has only enjoyed three up trading days over the last six weeks.
Below $120 a tonne most Chinese producers become unprofitable, but a sustained period below this level may indicate a fundamental shift in the industry.
Chinese rebar prices are now 8% lower than October 2011 lows, while iron ore prices remain 5% higher.
A build-up in steel inventories and a steep drop-off in demand as China's building boom begins to look more and more unsustainable send iron ore down 3.4% in just the last week and more than 25% below the $174 a tonne struck this time last year.
Citic Pacific Mining executive chairman Dongyi Hua says "soaring demand for Australian food, particularly beef, among China's 100 million wealthy people could buffer Australia's economy from the effects of an end to the mining boom" particularly given the risk that iron ore prices could fall further.
The export surcharge was raised on two occasions last year to 30% to keep ore inside the country for local steelmakers amid a mining ban in the state of Karnataka instated in July. That ban is now being lifted.
The performance of iron ore is in stark contrast to other commodities including copper which has shed 4% over the last two days and crude oil which touched a 52-week low of under $78 a barrel today.
Rates for Capesizes have plunged 98% to just under $4,000 a day from the eye-watering rate of $234,000 set in June 2008 while the Baltic Dry Index which measures overall shipping costs has declined 48% this year alone.
Smaller miners are waiting for production cutbacks by the market leaders to prop up prices the way Saudi-Arabia comes to the rescue of oil producing nations whenever the crude price begins to flag.
Iron ore prices fell on Monday to six-month lows of $130/tonne as Chinese steelmakers demand cargo deferrals or simply default on shipments.
“There is a new level of prices for iron ore globally,” Tito Martins, Vale CFO tells analysts in a conference call Friday.
While China's steel output is hitting a record rate of over 2 million tonnes per day stockpiles of iron ore are growing at a clip of 1 million tonnes per week at the country's ports.
The price is up more than 27% from lows struck in October last year when the steelmaking ingredient experienced a mini crash.
Using the dismal science to make forecasts and taking risks with real money are two very different things. And the Brazilian giant is definitely putting its money where its mouth is.
Fortescue chief executive Neville Power also told The Australian newspaper that Chinese steel production growth will be lower over the next five years at about 4% – 5%, from 7% – 8% now.
Hope for the beleaguered iron ore sector has come in the form of higher prices and signs that steel demand is picking up in China, Reuters reports.
The big three – BHP, Vale and Rio Tinto – control nearly 70% of the 1 billion tonne annual iron ore seaborne trade and even the combined mining and trading capabilities of a Glenstrata may not be enough of an advantage over the incumbents.
Should the supermajors join the new platform it would mark the latest shift in the global iron ore business which has been completely transformed in less than a decade.
Although some Asian firms have found creative ways of doing business with Iran, European iron ore traders and shipping companies are shying away completely from transacting with the country as US-led sanctions start to have an impact.
Down from 100 million tonnes in 2010, India's minerals industry federation forecasts only 40 million tonnes will be shipped over the next 12 months.
After staging an impressive comeback from October's lows, the rally in iron ore prices seems to have run out of steam.
On the last day of Roundup, Vancouver's mining showcase, Sandy Chim CEO of Canada's Century Iron Mines, flashed a few slides about China, India and the iron ore market that would make gold bugs green with envy.
The market for iron ore is likely to soften this year but industry leaders Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are not pulling in production, betting that the slowdown in steelmaking is temporary.
Reuters reports spot iron ore was trading close to seven-week highs after a cyclone closed down the world's largest export terminal in Australia and heavy rains in three Brazilian states halted Vale's shipments.
Brazillian firm Vale's (NYSE: VALE) Chinamax vessel started unloading its first iron ore in China on Wednesday after months of uncertainty on accessing its largest market's ports, news service Exame reported.
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