“Australia’s most lucrative export commodity, iron ore, continues to fetch surprisingly strong prices, with big miners believing that only a ramp-up of mines within China can drive it lower.
Iron ore was fetching $US92.61 per tonne over the weekend, having risen almost 2 per cent on Friday and almost 7 per cent over the past week.
The bulk commodity has averaged $US85.87 per tonne since January 1, defying expectations that the ramp-up of production at Vale’s S11D mine in Brazil would drive iron ore prices lower in 2017.
Vale has brought S11D into the market at a slower pace than originally expected, and heavy rains in the Pilbara region of Western Australia have slowed output from the likes of BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group.
Port Hedland shipped just 35.6 million tonnes of iron ore in February, which was less than in the same month last year and about 19 per cent less than was exported last December.
Speaking at the China Development Forum in Beijing over the weekend, Rio chief executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said he believed the Chinese economy would be strong this year and that continued curtailment of small and inefficient steel mills in China would drive more demand for iron ores with higher iron content, like the ores that Rio produces.
But he said the amount of iron ore produced by China’s domestic iron ore miners was one of the few factors that could drive iron ore prices lower.
“Three years ago they (Chinese miners) used to produce above 400 million tonnes. At this point in time, our base view is (they are producing) about 270 million metric tonnes. It’s still winter in China, it’s going to be interesting to see what will happen as we get into summer months,” Mr Jacques said.
“Are they going to restart some of this capacity? Depending on this decision, it may have an impact on the iron ore prices.”
Macquarie analysts said last week they expect iron ore prices to average $US50 per tonne in the second half of this year.
Meanwhile, London newspapers reported that former Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly could be a candidate to replace Jac Nasser as chairman of BHP later this year.
Mr Nasser has vowed to step down from the role this year and most pundits believe his replacement will come from one of BHP’s existing directors, such as Carolyn Hewson, Malcolm Broomhead or Lindsay Maxsted.
Ms Kelly is not a director of BHP at this stage.
BHP is not expected to announce Mr Nasser’s replacement until mid-year at the earliest.”
19 Mar 2017