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Iron ore price dives on China pollution crackdown

Steel works in China. Image by junrong

Iron ore prices fell on Friday as moves in China to restrict steel mills’ highly-polluting operations and reduce production capacity weighed on sentiment.

According to Fastmarkets MB, benchmark 62% Fe fines imported into Northern China (CFR Qingdao) were changing hands for $165.53 a tonne, down 4.25% from the previous trade.

The most-traded May iron ore contract on China’s Dalian Commodity Exchange touched $163.11 a tonne and has fallen 6% this week.

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment has urged the country’s top steelmaking city of Tangshan to crack down on violators of air quality rules after four mills had failed to implement production curbs during days of heavy pollution.

February shipments have been lower than January exports for the past three years due mainly to seasonal weather factors in Australia and Brazil

The Tangshan government issued a second-level pollution alert on March 8, urging heavy industrial companies such as steelmakers and coking plants to cut production accordingly.

The move dampened the market’s optimism about a post-Lunar New Year demand boost for iron ore in the world’s top steel producer.

“The market vomited $10/tonne in one day as financial investors misdiagnosed the impact of recent environmental restrictions on Tangshan steelmaking capacity,” Atilla Widnell, managing director at Navigate Commodities in Singapore, told Reuters.

He said there is now “greater long-term risk to Chinese iron ore demand given the government wants to cut steel capacity and move towards scrap-intensive electric arc furnace production.”

“Driven by stringent control and some production cuts by the mills, steel markets remained buoyant due to constrained supply,” ING senior commodity strategist Wenyu Yao told Reuters.

Shipments

Iron ore shipments by Rio Tinto, BHP, Vale, Fortescue Metals Group and Roy Hill in Australia, along with Saldanha port in South Africa, fell 11.2% month on month in February, but were up 3.3% year on year, according to S&P Global Platts‘ trade flow software, cFlow.

February shipments have been lower than January exports for the past three years due mainly to seasonal weather factors in Australia and Brazil.

Combined exports over January-February of 126.7 million tonnes from the four largest Australian producers were up 4.2 million tonnes from the same period a year earlier.

Shipments from Vale of 40.3 million tonnes were down 3 million tonnes on the year before, while South African exports over January-February of 8.6 million tonnes were 1.5 million tonnes lower than in the same two months of 2020.

(With files from Reuters)

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