Iron ore spot prices are unlikely to ease anytime soon. Prices have touched a high of $192 per tonne, moving closer to the all-time high of $200 per tonne reached in 2008. According to the Metal Bulletin, spot iron prices traded at a high of $192 per tonne on 22 April 2010.
Iron ore prices have moved up significantly in the past few months from $115 per tonne in December 2009 to the current $192 per tonne. Stalled mining activities in India and Australia are believed to be a major contributor to the rise in spot prices.
As supply bottlenecks in the Indian ore market stand unresolved, there are no signs of softening in spot prices. With this supply deficit, what used to be a buyer’s market has now turned into a seller’s market. India is a major contributor to the global iron ore spot market. Indian exports alone contribute around 80 million tonnes (MT) to the total 120MT traded in the spot market globally. However, during the period of January 2010- March 2010, Indian exports have declined due to issues involving mines in the country.
The closure of the Oballapuram mines has severely affected Indian iron ore output. In addition, mining activities have been disrupted due to government action against illegal mining, along with environmental concerns.
On the other hand, supply from Australian mines is also believed to have declined. When ore prices fell to $60 per tonne in late 2008, a number of mines in Australia were believed to have been closed. This supply shortage issue coupled with a marginal demand of 4% globally has turned the tables, turning a buyer’s market into a seller’s market.
With spot prices shooting up, long-term prices are also likely to witness a similar trend. The increase in spot prices is expected to have a direct effect on quarterly contracts. The global iron ore market is controlled by a handful of producers such as CVRD of Brazil and the Anglo-Australian companies Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
The major buyers are Chinese companies. Big miners are now insisting on quarterly contracts against the earlier yearly iron ore supply contracts.
Most steel companies have agreed to this model, except for Chinese companies. However, China’s stance is not expected to change the demand-supply dynamics significantly. According to industry sources, a further increase of 10%-20% in iron ore prices is likely. If the prices were to rise beyond this point, it might place buyers in a tight position, leading to a situation similar to the one witnessed in 2008. — Amritha Pillay