Singapore — Vale's announcement on Tuesday regarding the halting of certain production units in its Southern Systems cast, with an estimated impact of about 40 million tons of iron ore to decommission its upstream dams, resulted in further concerns over the longer term supply of Brazilian fines, market sources said Wednesday.
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March TSI iron ore swaps surged to $85.5/dmt on Wednesday's morning session, up $7.05/dmt from Tuesday at 5.30 PM Singapore time.
Iron ore future contracts listed on the Dalian Commodity Exchanges reached the upper limit in five minutes after the start of Wednesday's morning trading session.
"There is now a clearer and more quantitative indication of how supply of Vale's Southern System products will be affected. There are enquiries and higher indicative bids for Brazilian Blend fines (BRBF) cargoes but it is unlikely that there will be any offers now as premiums can go alot higher after the Lunar New Year holidays," a Chinese trader said.
"Bids of higher premiums have been received for our Brazilian cargoes but with the supply issue being unlikely to resolve anytime soon, there is no hurry to sell as bids can only get higher," an international trader said.
End-users continued to stay away from the market with the current volatility and speculative trades, preferring to wait for a more stable outlook before committing to purchases.
"Procurement for low alumina cargoes will be a pressing concern after the holidays, but no end-user will buy at these prices, given depressed levels of steel margins," a northern Chinese mill said.
"There is a buffer time to seek alternatives like domestic concentrates and other low alumina products," the source added.
A longer-term change to the raw feedstock in the blast furnace as a result of impacted supply was increasingly likely, market sources said.
"Although Vale will be increasing the production of their Northern Systems, it is not a direct replacement for Southern System fines which are high in silica. Mills that utilize BRBF for their blast furnace will have to think about balancing the silica content of their burden mix," a Chinese trader said.
Typical Carajas fines from Vale's Northern System have an alumina content of 1.5% with silica levels of 1.7%, in contrast with Vale's Southern System products like Standard Sinter Feed Guaiba (SSFG) which has typical alumina levels of 2% and 6% silica, as well as Sinter Feed Low Alumina (SFLA) with 0.8% alumina and 5% silica.
Vale's BRBF which is a mix of Carajas fines and Southern System fines, has alumina levels of 1.5% and 5% silica.
With Vale's estimated stoppage impacting the production of pellet feed needed for 11 million tons of pellets, higher prices for pellet were observed in the market.
A trade was concluded for Indian pellet with high alumina content at $114/dmt CFR China for end-January loading, and offers for typical Indian pellets were heard to be above $120/dmt CFR China for mid-February loading.
"The actual impact of the shutdown of Fabrica and Vargem Grande pelletizing plants on the seaborne market will be dependent on the volumes for export and the domestic market. Pellet feed will also be another major concern, with CAP's Chilean concentrate still out of the market," a source said.
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