Brazil struggles may prolong Australia’s iron ore boom
Australian miners and Treasury boffins could be enjoying strong iron ore prices for longer than expected, amid growing signals that Brazilian miner Vale has made a weak start to the year.
Vale said last year that it would make a slow start to 2020, shipping 70 million to 75 million tonnes in the three months to March 31 before accelerating to produce between 340 million and 355 million tonnes in the year.
But sources with access to Brazilian port data suggest Vale’s output has been weaker than expected in the first three weeks of the year, possibly because of flooding in the southern regions of Brazil.
Vale is typically the world’s biggest iron ore producer, but in the week ending January 19 the company is understood to have shipped less iron ore than the world’s fourth biggest exporter, Fortescue Metals Group.
Statistics published by the Brazilian ministry of economy also suggest Vale has made a slower start to the year than it did in 2019, with average daily shipping rates down by about 25 per cent.
The ministry was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that 15.5 million tonnes of iron ore left the South American nation’s shores in the first 19 days of January; down from 33.1 million tonnes in the full month of January 2019.
Vale is not scheduled to update the market on its production and export rates until February 11, and that event will be keenly watched by Australian miners like BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue and Roy Hill.
Iron ore was fetching $US95.60 per tonne on Wednesday, and the weak signals from Brazil suggests Australian miners may be enjoying the price rally for a while yet.
The weak export rate from Brazil has prompted a slump in a key shipping rate that is often used as a barometer of global economic activity; the Baltic Dry Index.
The index is testing four year lows, with weak exports of iron ore from Brazil seen as one of the factors in the slump.
“So far this year conditions were made worse by the exceptionally low iron ore volumes out of Brazil and the earlier-than-usual New Year holidays in China,” said Burak Cetinok, head of research at Arrow Shipping Group Ltd.
Last year’s federal budget assumed that iron ore prices would have returned to about $US55 per tonne by March 2020, but that now looks unlikely.
Morgan Stanley has forecast an average price of $US93 per tonne until March 31 and $US85 per tonne in the subsequent three months.
The stronger than expected prices have sparked an extraordinary rally in Australian iron ore stocks, particularly those with pure exposure to the commodity, like Fortescue Metals Group.
Fortescue shares rose to their highest ever price this week.
Shares in Mt Gibson Iron, which exports high grade iron from Koolan Island off the north west coast of Australia, have rallied by almost 50 per cent in the past four months,
High prices are also tempting developers to try their luck with traditionally marginal iron ore assets; ASX listed Carbine Resources is keen to revive mining at Cockatoo Island, close to Koolan Island.
A subsidiary of middle east miner Al Rawda has also been testing market interest in its Roper River project in the Northern Territory.
Source: Australian Financial Review