Iron Ore Sell-Off Deepens as Month Opens With Same Old Pain

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  • ‘Fundamentals are pretty weak,’ Maike Futures analysts say
  • Supply concerns overshadow robust PMI data from China mills

Low-Grade Iron Ore Price Slumps

After a miserable May, iron ore is opening the new month on the back foot. Futures in Asia fell to the lowest level in seven months as rising concern about increased supplies steamrollered positive signs, including data from China that may signal record steel output in the top producer.

In Singapore, the SGX AsiaClear contract sank as much as 2.2 percent to $54.30 a metric ton on Thursday, the lowest since October, after an 18 percent drop in May. Futures in Dalian fell 1.1 percent, while benchmark spot ore retreated 1.8 percent to $55.97 a ton in Qingdao, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd.

The commodity has been on a wild ride this year -- coming close to challenging the $100 level in February before collapsing over the next three months -- as investors sought to gauge the impact of greater supply and the outlook for steel demand in China. Iron ore’s latest leg down has happened even after a manufacturing gauge for the world’s largest steel industry rose to the highest in a year, suggesting another month of bumper production.

“Cargoes from the four largest exporters have remained at high levels, causing port inventories to repeatedly hit new highs,” Dang Man and Ren Jiaojiao, analysts at Maike Futures Co., a Chinese brokerage, said in a note. While steelmakers may be churning out record output, “they’re making hand-to-mouth purchases of raw materials. Iron ore’s fundamentals are pretty weak.”

Iron ore has dropped even as mills in China boosted output to an all-time high in April. The data on Wednesday showed the industry’s purchasing manager’s index rose to 54.8 in May from 49.1 a month earlier, as an underlying gauge of production jumped to 58.2 from 56.2. Readings above 50 show expansion.

More Declines

“While demand has risen at a rapid pace, iron ore supply has overwhelmed even more,” Macquarie Group Ltd. said in a report received Thursday, targeting a slump back to $50 a ton in the second half. “As consumption rolls over into the middle of the year, iron ore inventory will start to become an increasing drag on prices.” 

Steel prices also retreated on Thursday, extending the previous day’s losses. On the Shanghai Futures Exchange, reinforcement bar eased to a two-week low, while hot-rolled coil lost 0.5 percent.

Iron ore’s declines in recent months have hurt miners’ shares. In Sydney, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. fell 3.7 percent to close at A$4.67, the lowest price since September. Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton Ltd. also dropped in Sydney. The trio are the country’s largest shippers.

Vale SA, the world’s largest iron-ore producer, fell as much as 1.6 percent in Sao Paulo, and was down 0.3 percent as of 11:14 a.m. local time.

The global market will stay well supplied over the next five years as miners boost production further, according to BMI Research. Output from Brazil will jump more than 100 million tons by 2021 as Vale presses on with a ramp-up of its biggest project, S11D, the research arm of Fitch Group estimates.

— With assistance by R.T. Watson

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