Iron ore soars as Vale ordered to shut down mines

Ore-loaded train taken from Itabira Minas Gerais, Brazil. Stock image.

Chinese iron ore futures surged on Monday, marking the biggest intraday percentage gain since July 2019, as supply concerns deepened after the country’s second-biggest iron ore supplier Brazil shut down Vale’s Itabira complex due to coronavirus concerns.

A Brazilian judge ordered the closure of the Conceição, Cauê and Periquito mines after 188 workers tested positive for covid-19, putting more than 10% of the firm’s iron ore output offline.

The most-traded September contract of iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange soared as much as 7.6% to 798 yuan ($112.74) per tonne, the biggest percentage change since July 9, 2019. It closed up 5.5% at 783 yuan a tonne.

A Brazilian judge ordered the closure of the Conceição, Cauê and Periquito mines after 188 workers tested positive for covid-19, putting more than 10% of the firm’s iron ore output offline

Prices also surged to $103 a tonne in Singapore on Monday, the highest since August 2019.

According to Fastmarkets MB, benchmark 62% Fe fines imported into Northern China rose by $4.93, to $105.67 a tonne on Monday.

The halt is in place until a final court ruling or until Vale satisfies labor inspectors on its control measures, with a daily fine set at 500,000 reais ($101,000).

Guidance

Vale has reaffirmed its iron ore output guidance and said it is keeping its monthly production forecast at Itabira at 2.7 million tonnes for the coming months.

But if the closure is sustained, iron ore supply disruptions could be larger than last year after the tailings dam disaster in Brumadinho, Wu Shiping, an analyst at Tianfeng Futures told Reuters.

“We are also not seeing any signs of weak demand for now even as the rainy season is coming,” Wu added.

The most active construction rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, for October delivery, edged up 0.4% to 3,616 yuan per tonne.

Hot-rolled coils, used in the manufacturing sector, rose 1.1% to 3,542 yuan a tonne.

“In isolation, this disruption does not change our outlook for a global iron ore surplus,” Tyler Broda, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said in a note to investors. “It does however serve to reinforce structural supply-side concerns about Brazilian production.”

The shutdown comes as covid-19 explodes in Latin America, with the region’s highly urbanized population of 600 million becoming the new global epicenter. Brazil is now second only to the United States in the number of cases.

Itabira is the site of Vale’s first mine. It is also one of ten cities affected by the collapse of the tailings dam at Brumadinho — and one that is still waiting for Vale to transfer funds as per an agreement to cover incurred losses in mining royalties.

In April, Vale cut its production guidance to between 310 million tons and 330 million tons. That revised projection considers as much as 15 million tons of losses from eventual covid-19 impacts.

(With files from Reuters and Bloomberg)

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