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Iron Ore Seen Strong Into 2014 on China Steel Demand, Supply

A dump truck, lower right, carries mined iron ore at the terraces at Vale SA's Brucutu mine in Barao de Cocais, Brazil, on May 9, 2013. Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg
A dump truck, lower right, carries mined iron ore at the terraces at Vale SA's Brucutu mine in Barao de Cocais, Brazil, on May 9, 2013. Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg

May 15 (Bloomberg) -- Iron ore prices will remain strong into 2014 on sustained demand in China, the largest producer of steel, and as an increase in global supply takes longer than expected, according to Morgan Stanley.

While the price has averaged $135 a ton this quarter from $148 in the first three months, that’s more than the bank’s estimate of $130 for the April-to-June period, analysts Joel Crane and Peter Richardson wrote in a report dated yesterday. The bank maintained its forecasts of $120 in the first quarter of 2014 and $118 in the second.

Iron ore dropped 13 percent this year, entering a bear market today, on signs that economic growth in China is slowing as global supply led by Australia, the world’s biggest exporter, expands. Morgan Stanley said April 23 that the global seaborne market will shift into surplus from 2015, revising a January forecast of supplies outpacing demand in 2014. Iron ore will be well-supported at more than $100 a ton this year on sustained demand from China, CLSA Ltd. said May 9.

“It is increasingly clear that steel consumption in China remains strong,” Morgan Stanley’s Melbourne-based analysts wrote. “Our assessment of the global seaborne iron ore market is that price strength could continue well into next year.”

Bear Market

Ore with 62 percent iron content delivered to the Chinese port of Tianjin lost 1.3 percent to $126.40 a dry ton today, according to The Steel Index Ltd. Prices dropped 20 percent from a 16-month high of $158.90 on Feb. 20, meeting the definition of a bear market. The steel-making raw material is still 46 percent higher than a three-year low of $86.70 in September.

“Market concerns over the sustainability of strong iron ore prices are focused on the prospect of an excess of supply coming to market in 2013 and 2014,” they said, referring to expansions such as Rio Tinto Group’s Pilbara operations. “While an increase in mine capacity is well understood in the market, the timetable of ramp-up into that capacity is not.”

Inventory of steel reinforcement-bar, or rebar, in China tracked by Shanghai Steelhome Information Technology Co. fell to 8.95 million tons on May 10, the lowest since Feb. 8. China’s iron ore imports rose 4 percent to 67.15 million tons in April after climbing 14 percent in March, according to customs data.

China Stockpiles

Another major cycle of stockpiles drawdown is unlikely in the second half of 2013 because inventory levels across the value chain are too low, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a report dated yesterday. The bank estimated stockpiles of iron ore at Chinese ports at 69 million tons, down 29 percent from a year earlier. Goldman said its price forecast for 2014 is $115 a ton, which compares with its current 12-month estimate of $120.

“Availability of material has remained tight amid low iron ore stocks at the ports, traders and steel mills,” the Morgan Stanley report said. “On the demand side, we believe the combination of a recent sharp drop from record-high steel inventories and a high level of steel output in China suggest strong iron ore consumption in the country.”

India’s role as major supplier in the seaborne market is in “terminal decline” after mining was suspended in the states of Karnataka and Goa and exports were capped, the report said.

Iron ore is measured in dry tons, or metric tons less moisture. At Tianjin, the iron ore moisture can account for 8 percent to 10 percent of the weight.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phoebe Sedgman in Melbourne at psedgman2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Poole at jpoole4@bloomberg.net

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