China consumes more than two-thirds of the global seaborne iron ore market and at the same time produces as much steel as the rest of the world combined.
Beijing’s war on smog has concentrated on the country’s steelmaking hubs near the capital where mandated cuts of as much as 50% came into actual effect last month. The Chinese government announced that it would shut about a third, or around 1,000, of the country’s iron ore mines which struggle with average grades of only around 20% iron ore content.
Chinese imports of high quality iron ore fines and lump ore from Australia, Brazil and South Africa topped 100m tonnes for the first time in September, but plunged by 23% last month to 79.5m tonnes as steelmakers work through inventory amid lower production. Total shipments for the first ten months of the year is up 6.3% to 896m tonnes.
Iron ore spot markets rose strongly again yesterday, the price for benchmark iron ore 62% fines, jumped by 1.4% to $63.47 a tonne, adding to the 1.7% gain achieved on Friday last week. As a result of the back-to-back gains, it now sits at the highest level since September 27.
We see strong positive signs that restrictions on steel production in China are now fully in force and are crimping iron ore demand from local mills. Chinese authorities have enforced steel production cuts between mid-November and mid-March 2018 in an attempt to improve air quality in northern Chinese provinces during winter.
In general, there are concerns that against weakening demand from steel mills, the increase in China’s iron ore production might lead to less import appetite, weighing down on seaborne prices to a certain extent.
In any case we have a positive outlook. Capesize rates, which since August have recovered to their strongest levels in three years, are likely to retain their underlying strength until at least the first quarter next year.
Average earnings for Capesize ships, which typically haul around 180,000 tonnes of iron ore, are around $26,350 per day, compared with $8,208 per day last year. Overall iron ore cargo volumes also grew by 4 percent last year compared with 2 percent growth in the capesize fleet in 2016.
Charter rates on key routes such as the Western Australia-China route fell to $7.64 per tonne on Wednesday last week against $8.31 per tonne the week before. Rates hit $8.98 per tonne on Oct. 17, the highest since November 2014.
Freight rates on the route from Brazil to China slipped a bit to $18.25 per tonne on Wednesday, from $18.41 a week earlier. They marked $19.60 per tonne on Sept. 25, still the highest since November 2014. Looking at the big picture there is a strong momentum building up.
Source: Intermodal Weekly Market Report [W46]
By Christopher T. Whitty – Commercial Manager – Cotzias Intermodal Shipping