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Adding value to iron ore, at a cost: Australia’s magnetite curse strikes again

National Australia Bank lifts forecasts for iron ore, met coal prices

Sydney — National Australia Bank raised its forecasts for iron ore and metallurgical coal prices citing mine closures in Brazil for the former and constraints on both Australian exports and Chinese imports for the latter, it said Wednesday in its Minerals and Energy Outlook report.

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"Mine closures in Brazil -- in response to safety concerns around unsafe tailing damn infrastructure -- are likely to limit the growth of global supply in 2019," NAB said, adding that the effects could continue for the next few years.

"Previously, the market had been expected to be in surplus this year, and while some of the lost supply can be replaced by higher output at other mines (particularly in Brazil), supply is still expected to be tighter," the bank said.

As a result, NAB has revised its iron ore price forecast for 2019 to $80/mt, up from a previous forecast of $62/mt. For 2020, it now expects $70/mt, up from $60/mt. The forecast decline over the two years is because of the expectation of softer growth in Chinese demand, it said.

Fellow Australian bank ANZ said Wednesday that it expects the issues in Brazil to cause production losses totaling 43 million mt.

Meanwhile, NAB expects 2019 hard coking coal prices to be at $185/mt, up from its previous forecast of $170/mt. For 2020, the bank is expecting $158/mt.

"Constraints on both major importers and exporters present considerable uncertainty to the coal outlook. Queensland metallurgical exports are limited by a regulatory dispute impacting the rail infrastructure operator, while China's imports have been constrained by unofficial quotas aimed at boosting domestic output," NAB said.

ANZ also mentioned Chinese policy as a key driver for coal prices. "We see imports recovering from March, while annual imports remain softer amid rising domestic production. Spreads between high and low calorific coal [is] to stay wide as demand supports better quality coal," it said.

-- Nathan Richardson,

-- Edited by Shashwat Pradhan,