Upbeat China data sends iron ore soaring, climbs the most in 8 months

Iron ore prices received a major boost Monday hitting its highest level in eight months after upbeat Chinese data showed its construction sector in July grew the most in almost four years.

Ore with 62% content in Qingdao jumped 7.2% to $73.70 a tonne, according to the Metal Bulletin, the highest price since April 11 and the largest one-day percentage gain since December 1, 2016.

From the recent low of $53.36 a tonne hit on June 13, the benchmark price is now up more than 38% — an impressive return in a little over a month.

From the recent low of $53.36 a tonne hit on June 13, iron ore is now up more than 38%

Today’s significant gain coincides with the release of the official sub-index for activity growth in China’s construction sector, which hit to 62.5 in July, the highest level for that measurement since late 2013.

It also comes among tougher and more frequent environmental inspections by Chinese regulators, which have many fearing it could dent steel production.

"Environmental inspections have caused great impact on iron ore prices. Production in some mines, processing plants and mills are being disrupted," an unnamed iron ore trader in Beijing told Reuters. "The whole supply chain has been affected by the inspections."

Despite both pessimistic and conservative predictions about the direction iron ore prices would be headed this year until 2020, the steelmaking material’s ongoing rally hasn’t come as a surprise for experts at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

According to the UN’s trading, investment and development arm, the upturn began brewing last year and key indicators of demand and supply, seaborne trade and price prove so, as they all made gains through the year.

In a report published Monday, the UNCTAD says that although Chinese consumption remained relatively low in 2016, and prices did not improve for much of the year, the market started to improve in the final quarter, with prices exceeding $80 per tonne in December.

Upbeat China data sends iron ore flying, climbs the most in 8 months

According to the document, the outlook for iron ore prices is rather positive, especially considering that producers have reduced mining costs substantially over the past four years.

The mining industry as a whole, says the report, now spends $22 less per tonne than it did in 2013 due to tightened capital controls, renegotiated contracts and the exit of high cost supply.

Last year, the production-weighted average cost for the seaborne market was only $34 per tonne in 2016, and the lowest cost producer achieved $23 per tonne.

The experts also note that annual exploration budget for iron ore fell in 2016 for the fourth consecutive year, with the estimated $685 million expenditure representing a decline of $460 million from 2015.

Most of the fall, they say, can be attributed to Australia and China, which together accounted for almost half of the global decline last year. As a consequence, yearly budget for iron ore exploration is now down 83% from the peak of $3.98 billion it reached in 2012.