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Iron ore prices hit over six-year high on tight supply

Highlights

Supply deficit for medium grade fines

Prices likely to remain supported by firm demand

Singapore — The seaborne iron ore price hit more than six-year high Aug. 18, due to supply shortness of medium grade fines and a strong demand recovery in China post-pandemic.

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S&P Global Platts assessed the 62% Fe Iron Ore Fines Index at $127.60/dry mt Aug. 18, the highest since January 2014.

Seaborne iron ore prices - Platts IODEX

Production disruptions in Brazil in the first half of 2020 due to the extended monsoon season and COVID-19-related precautionary measures weighed on the overall supply of iron ore fines.

Despite firm shipment volumes from Australia, market sources saw iron ore inventories at Chinese port tumbling down, especially for medium grade fines, amid heavy reliance on sintered ores in blast furnaces among Chinese steelmakers.

"High grade fines and direct feed cargoes are much more economical than medium grade fines from a theoretical perspective, but medium grade fines still form the bulk of sinter feed blends," a China-based trader said.

Meanwhile, iron ore demand was lifted by a swift recovery of the crude steel production in China since April, with July monthly production volume jumping 9.1% year on year to 93.36 million mt, National Bureau of Statistics, or NBS, data showed.

Sources attributed the strength in steel outlook to government support on property and infrastructures investments, and steady recovery of key manufacturing sectors post-pandemic.

Traded prices for portside inventories -- a hand-to-mouth procurement option for small quantity purchases -- continued to be higher than seaborne prices for mainstream fines, supporting demand for seaborne cargoes.

China domestic port stock assessment for Eastern China ports closed at Yuan 970/wmt on Aug. 19, or $131.16/dmt, on import-parity basis, $3.56/dmt higher than the seaborne IODEX on the same day.

Amid increasing caution from market participants over a possible correction in prices, several sources expected continued support for seaborne price levels.

End-users are buying seaborne cargoes in light of current portside price levels, and secondary market demand will continue to fuel buying interest for direct cargo sales from the miners, an international trader said.

While end-users have in the past relied on portside buying to be flexible in times of high prices, increased levels of steel production will support bulk buying of seaborne cargoes at lower prices, a procurement source said.

Procurement demand will unlikely tail-off in the near-term on healthy steel margins and the upcoming peak demand season for steel finished products in September and October, an end-user source said.