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Major iron ore producers overcome tough quarter as prices seen to stabilize

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BHP Group's iron ore operations in Western Australia's Pilbara region.
Source: BHP Group

The world's top three iron ore miners pushed through a troubled third quarter of pricing and emerged with higher output, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of the top 20 iron ore producers.

BHP Group Ltd. produced 65.1 million tonnes of iron ore during the quarter, netting the greatest year-over-year increase of 1.77 million tonnes.

Top producer Vale SA meanwhile recorded the biggest quarterly increase, jumping by 15.59 Mt, or 21%, from the previous quarter. Vale's third-quarter production of 89.7 Mt was 1.01 Mt higher than the year-ago period.

Having shone in a volatile second quarter of pricing, Rio Tinto Group's third-quarter production also increased by 1.65 Mt, or 2.3%, year over year to 73.7 Mt.

BHP's September quarter production was 2.8% higher than the prior-year period, the largest percentage increase among the top three iron ore producers, due to higher volumes produced at its Western Australian mines and the Samarco mine, a 50/50 joint venture with Vale in Brazil.

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The largely buoyant results for the world's iron ore majors came despite prices plunging to a seven-month low in July on weakening demand and COVID-19 outbreaks in China, before firming in August on stronger Chinese steelmaking margins. Then, in September, the S&P Global Platts IODEX 62% iron ore price hit a 10-month low amid continued concern over demand given China's further COVID-19 outbreaks.

Yet markets are now less pessimistic as "there is a feeling that China has to open up in some shape or form" from its COVID-19 lockdowns, Gavin Wendt, founding director of research group MineLife, told S&P Global Commodity Insights.

This optimism, along with seasonal restocking for China's steelmakers, means "we have probably seen the worst as far as prices are concerned," Wendt said. "So you would expect to see producers now trying to maximize production to bring supply into a market where China is starting to restock, and we should start to see price stability."

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Of the top 20 miners analyzed, Champion Iron Ltd. had the the highest year-over-year lift of 36.8% and the largest quarter-over-quarter increase of 25.2%, with a record quarterly production of 2.86 Mt amid the phase two expansion ramp-up at the Bloom Lake mine in Quebec.

Metinvest BV, meanwhile, recorded the sharpest year-over-year drop of 88.5% and the largest quarter-over-quarter iron ore production decrease of 66.4% to 900,000 tonnes due to hostilities in Ukraine, which also caused intragroup consumption to plummet after Mariupol's steelmakers shut down at the end of February when Russia invaded the country.

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Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. was the only top-five producer to see lower output, with production falling 9.9% from the prior-year period and 7.4% from the prior quarter to 54.8 Mt, despite shipping a record 47.5 Mt during the September quarter.

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S&P Global Platts is an offering of S&P Global Commodity Insights, which produces content for distribution on S&P Capital IQ Pro.

S&P Global Commodity Insights and S&P Global Market Intelligence are owned by S&P Global Inc.