Minerals & Energy Commodities Update
Comment of the Day

July 08 2014

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Minerals & Energy Commodities Update

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from National Australia Bank. Here is a section on iron-ore: 

Spot prices exhibited less volatility in June than they did in May –trading in a narrow range across the month –in contrast to a persistent downward trend since late 2013. In late June, prices for 62% fines edged back above US$95 a tonne (having fallen as low as US$89 a tonne)

Unlike other bulk commodities, imports of iron ore into China have remained strong –increasing by almost 19% in the first five months of the year to 383 million tonnes.
The strong level of exports have seen stockpiles at Chinese ports rise to record levels –at almost 114 million tonnes –albeit the level has remained fairly stable in June. 

MySteelResearch had previously estimated that around 40% of stocks were connected to shadow banking-related financing deals, however a more recent estimate by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch suggests steel mills control 70% of current stocks.

Reuters report that some Chinese steel mills are selling future iron ore cargoes (delivered under long term contracts) and purchasing material currently at ports –for which the prices are lower. This trend may have supported the recent (albeit modest) recovery in spot prices.
Lower prices are likely impacting the viability of Chinese ore producers –with estimates that around 80% of Chinese iron ore mines have cash costs at between US$80 and US$90 a tonne (MySteel).

Our forecasts for iron ore prices are unchanged –our hybrid price consists of a weighted combination of spot and contract prices –however the recent weakness in spot prices highlights downside risk. We expect ironore at around US$100 at the end of 2014 and down to US$95 a tonne at the end of 2015.  

Eoin Treacy's view

Here is a link to the full report.

We can assume that Chinese production of iron-ore represents the marginal cost for the global sector. Below $80 and part of China’s mining sector would need to be shuttered. Above $90 and they are still profitable. Quite apart from the fact that major foreign suppliers have better quality ore and long-term contracts, prices are unlikely to fall much below the $80 to $90 area. 

Since prices are currently in that area, we can reasonably conclude that the better performing iron-ore miners can prosper at these levels. Most of the better performers have additional business streams that have helped them through what has been a difficult time for iron-ore. BHP Billiton is a primary example. 

VALE’s iron-ore operation dominates revenues and it has been ranging above $12 for a year. It is currently testing the region of the 200-day MA and a sustained move above $16 would break the more than four-year progression of lower rally highs and suggest a return to demand dominance beyond the short term.   


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