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Iron Ore & Steel Q3 China Outlook: Iron ore prices seen lower, steel output strong

Highlights

Iron ore demand, prices expected to soften in Q3

Almost half of respondents see steel output rising

Iron ore prices are expected to soften from current high levels in the July-September quarter, though Chinese steel margins will remain healthy, driven by demand from infrastructure and property construction, according to the latest S&P Global Platts Iron Ore & Steel Outlook released June 29.

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The outlook for the third quarter found that 52% of respondents expected iron ore prices to average in the $90-$100/mt CFR China range in Q3, with only 20% seeing prices above $100/mt. The Platts 62% Fe benchmark averaged $103/mt CFR over June 1-25.

A quarter of respondents expected their iron ore requirements to increase in Q3, while 29% anticipated less demand. This contrasts with the Q2 outlook, when 50% saw their iron ore needs increasing and only 13% expected lower iron ore requirements.

Despite record crude steel production in May, 46% of respondents thought Chinese steel output would increase further in Q3, with just 16% expecting it would be lower. In separate analysis, Platts estimates that Chinese crude steel production will grow by 2% this year.

Views regarding steel inventories in Q3 - which have been extremely high in recent months - were polarized, with 38% seeing steel stocks rising and the same percentage seeing them falling.

A third of respondents expected steel mill margins for domestic rebar to average Yuan 200-300/mt ($28-$40/mt) in Q3, with 29% seeing them lower at Yuan 100-200/mt. Some 32% saw rebar margins higher than Yuan 300/mt.

Around 50% of respondents saw margins for domestic hot-rolled coil above Yuan 200/mt ($28/mt) and just under one third expected them to be in the Yuan 100-200/mt range.

The China domestic rebar mill margin was $61.25/mt and the HRC margin was $37.04/mt, according to Platts mill margin data on June 24.

The Chinese government's focus on boosting infrastructure investment was reflected in the Q3 outlook, with 26% saying the sector would drive steel demand in the quarter. Only 6% singled out property, but the vast majority expected steel demand to come from both infrastructure and property.

Platts spoke to 31 companies for the outlook, consisting of Chinese steel mills, international trading houses and mining companies.