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China iron ore extends rally in thin pre-holiday trade

Iron ore futures in China closed higher on Monday as supply concerns and improved outlook for steel demand boosted prices, though trading was light ahead of the week-long Lunar New Year break.

The Dalian Commodity Exchange’s most-traded iron ore contract, expiring in May, ended 0.5% higher at 670 yuan ($97.82) a tonne.

Supply issues have also pushed spot prices higher, with the benchmark 62% iron-content ore settling at $96.70 a tonne on Friday, the strongest since Sept. 17 last year, data from SteelHome consultancy showed. SH-CCN-IRNOR62

Imported iron ore stocked at China’s ports fell for three weeks in a row, hitting 127.35 million tonnes on Friday, the lowest since the last week of September 2019, SteelHome data also showed. SH-TOT-IRONINV

Adding to supply concerns, Brazil’s Vale SA — the world’s largest iron ore miner — has halted tailings operations at its Esperança mine, citing the need for safety checks.

Anglo-American miner Rio Tinto reported reduced iron ore shipments in the last quarter of 2019, highlighting its struggles to overcome fires, poor weather and operational challenges, analysts at ANZ Research said in a note.

Steel prices on the Shanghai Futures Exchange rose for a fourth straight session amid improving demand prospects, with the most-traded hot-rolled coil contract scaling a record peak.

China’s December macro-economic data released last week is mostly better than or in line with market expectations, which lifted overall investor sentiment, along with the signing of the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade deal, Argonaut Securities analyst Helen Lau said.

“We expect China’s 2020 economic conditions to be in a much better shape than in 2019,” Lau said. “Against this development, overall demand for commodities is set to improve in our view.”

* The Shanghai Futures Exchange’s most-traded construction steel rebar contract gained 0.5%.

* Hot-rolled steel coil, used in cars and home appliances, retreated after touching a record-high 3,655 yuan a tonne earlier in the session, but still closed 0.4% higher.

* “Overseas steel prices have been recovering since late last year and the rally may even pick up after the China’s Lunar New Year break,” said Kiyoshi Imamura, managing director at Tokyo Steel Manufacturing Co Ltd.

* Dalian coking coal gained 0.4% and Dalian coke advanced 0.7%.

* Shanghai stainless steel futures were down 0.3%.

* Many construction projects in China have been halted while some steel mills have shut down early ahead of the Lunar New Year break.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Uttaresh.V)

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