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Iron ore price hits fresh 9-and-half year high

Railroad transporting iron ore from Vale’s Carajás complex in Brazil. Source: Vale

Iron ore prices climbed back up to near-decade highs on Friday after customs data showed record-breaking imports by China, which forges more steel than the rest of the world combined.

According to Fastmarkets MB, benchmark 62% Fe fines imported into Northern China (CFR Qingdao) were changing hands for $173.69 a tonne, the highest since September 2011.

The steelmaking raw material has already enjoyed 8% gains in 2021 after an 80% rise last year. The benchmark hit an all-time high of $191.70 in February 2011.

The high-grade Brazilian index (65% Fe fines) was back near a record high at $194.90 a tonne on Friday after rising 78% over the past year.

Despite a 45% year-on-year decline in shipments in December to 96.75 million tonnes, for the full year China imported 1.17 billion tonnes of iron ore, customs data showed on Thursday. That handily beat the previous record of 1.075 billion tonnes set in 2017. 

Industry analyst Clyde Russell issued a word of caution for 2021 however, writing for Reuters that “while the market view is still optimistic for steel demand in China, it’s likely that Beijing will ease back on stimulus in 2021, making it harder to see iron ore imports enjoying another year of strong gains”:

A year of resilience would likely be a good outcome.

(Updated January 15, 10am PST)