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China iron ore steadies but logs best week in 3 on supply concerns

Dalian iron ore ended a wobbly session flat on Friday as output restrictions in some of China’s steel hubs dimmed demand prospects for the raw material, but lingering supply concerns drove the commodity to its best week since around mid-June.

Other steelmaking inputs also advanced, reigniting worries about steel production margins that have tumbled from last year’s high levels. Steel futures fell.

The most-traded iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange for September delivery erased early gains to close unchanged at 873 yuan ($127.02) a tonne. But it booked its fifth consecutive weekly gain with a 3.5% rise.

It was a largely volatile week for China’s ferrous complex as the focus of market participants often shifted between supply and demand fundamentals. Also, caution prevailed after China’s biggest steel companies sought government intervention in stabilising skyrocketing iron ore prices.

Steel producers feeling the pinch from this year’s surge in iron ore prices to record highs questioned whether “non-market factors” had caused the rally.

Benchmark 62% grade spot iron ore for delivery to China was steady at $119.50 a tonne on Thursday, near the five-and-a-half year high of $126.50 hit on July 3, data from SteelHome consultancy showed.

While iron ore supply remains tight at ports in China, strict steel output limits aimed at curbing pollution – in the cities of Tangshan and Wu’an in the major steelmaking province of Hebei – have clouded the demand outlook for the commodity.

“Wu’an imposed output restrictions on 14 steelmakers as part of environmental policies from July 1 to Aug.31. The city will decide subsequent measures based on air quality,” ANZ said in a note. “This could be a drag on iron ore demand.”

Whether the restrictions in Tangshan will be lifted as scheduled on Aug. 1 will also depend on air quality conditions at the time.

“Tangshan was ranked the most polluted city in China in June,” said David Ching, analyst at Macquarie Capital Ltd. “We believe production cuts should intensify closer to September (ahead of China’s 70th anniversary celebrations in Beijing in October).”

* Imported iron ore inventory at Chinese ports has fallen 18% this year in the wake of mine shutdowns in Brazil due to safety checks following the deadly collapse of one of miner Vale SA’s tailings dams. SH-TOT-IRONINV

* Weather-related disruptions in supply from Australia further reduced iron ore shipments to China in recent months.

* Iron ore port stocks in China had hit a 2-1/2-year low of 115.25 million tonnes by the end of June, but they rose to 115.6 million tonnes last week, SteelHome data showed. Data from other institutions monitoring port stocks showed lower figures.

* China imported 75.18 million tonnes of iron ore in June, down 10.2% from the previous month, official data from China’s customs authority showed on Friday, released at the same time as the Chinese futures markets closed.

* Chinese steel futures edged lower, with the most-active October construction steel rebar contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange down 1% at 3,965 yuan a tonne. Hot rolled coil, the steel used in cars and home appliances, slipped 0.8% to 3,837 yuan.

* Other steelmaking ingredients rose. Dalian coking coal inched up 0.6% to 1,396.50 yuan a tonne, while coke climbed 1.2% to 2,118.5 yuan.

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Source: Reuters (Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Gopakumar Warrier)

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