Iron ore, a pacesetter of 2016’s rally in commodities, may be headed for a fall. Prices that have almost doubled since bottoming will face growing pressure on rising supply from Australia and Brazil as well as headwinds to demand in China, according to Capital Economics.
“We think it is overdone,” Caroline Bain, a London-based commodities economist at the group, said in an e-mail, referring to the surge that’s taken the raw material to the highest level in two years near $75 a metric ton. “The Chinese authorities are taking steps to take the heat out of the property market and the impact of earlier stimulus will start to fade.”
Iron ore has climbed as China buttressed growth in the top user, aiding the property market so much that authorities are now seeking to prevent excessive gains. The upswing has been supported by a rise in speculative bets in China, as well as investors’ bullish take this week on the likely implications for metals from a Donald Trump presidency. Amid the post-election clamor, risk assets have staged a massive rally, according to Sucden Financial.
“Funds have been holding pretty substantial cash reserves and by the looks of the recent market rally, particularly in the base metals and iron ore, we’re now seeing a lot of that capital being deployed,” Sucden analyst Kash Kamal said. “The rally has been overdone, the fundamentals suggest we’re still oversupplied,” he said, referring to iron ore.
Ore with 62% content in Qingdao jumped to $74.12 a dry ton on Thursday, the highest since November 2014, after rising 94% from December’s low, according to Metal Bulletin. In 2016, prices are up 70%, far ahead of the 7% advance in the Bloomberg Commodity Index. On Friday, futures extended gains, with contract in Dalian climbing for a third day and the price in Singapore adding as much as 3.8%.
The upsurge has helped to revive miners’ shares. In Australia, Fortescue Metals Group has more than tripled this year, while Rio Tinto Group rallied 33% and BHP Billiton gained 40%. The trio are the country’s largest exporters. Brazil’s Vale has more than doubled in 2016.
Iron ore prices may also have benefited this quarter as mainland investors reacted to a squeeze in coal supply in China by pouring funds into that commodity and others. As authorities and exchanges have moved to clamp down on coal and steel, that may have prompted investors to switch funds into iron ore, according to Australia & New Zealand Banking Group.
“Looking at steel-making costs, metallurgical coal prices have risen substantially,” and combined with higher iron ore prices, it’s likely there’ll be a near-term correction, according to Sucden’s Kamal. “The market is still in backwardation, so even with the current market exuberance, the consensus expectation is for prices to head lower on a mid-term basis,” he said.
More supply is on the way and port stockpiles in China have been rising too, with holdings at a two-year high. In Brazil, Vale is bringing online the giant S11D project, which will add low-cost production, while in Australia’s Pilbara, billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill venture is ramping up toward annual capacity of 55 million tons a year.
“We expect prices to fall back over the next few months and to fall further in 2017 as Australian and Brazilian producers continue to ramp up output,” said Bain at Capital Economics. The two countries are the world’s largest seaborne suppliers. “Our end-2017 forecast is just $45 per ton.”
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