Iron ore tumbled 8.5 per cent overnight as downward momentum accelerated, The spot price dropped $US6.34 to $US68.04 a tonne, according to Metal Bulletin. It has now shed 28 per cent from its February 21 high of $US94.86.
In a vicious cycle, buyers are pulling back, opting to tap either their own stockpiles or those already at Chinese ports, anticipating prices to fall still lower. The spot price is widely forecast to slide towards the $US55 mark as this year progresses, and to hold near that level through 2018. “Our outlook for the second half remains relatively bearish, with third-quarter forecast at $US60,” Goldman Sachs analysts including Jeffrey Currie and Amber Cai wrote in a new report.
The spot price is widely forecast to slide towards the $US55 mark as this year progresses, and to hold near that level through 2018. Photo: Michele Mossop
The volatility in prices reflects uncertainty about global supply, which is rising, as well as renewed output within China as mines there emerge from winter, and seek to cash in on the higher prices and seasonal demand for steel; all of this has been thoroughly assessed by industry executives and analysts for months.
At the moment though, it’s the pace of the current retreat that’s injected a degree of panic into the market.
“Nobody seems to be buying during this round of (the) downturn,” sources told Metal Bulletin.
The plunge in the spot price comes amid a contraction in futures contracts for both steel and iron ore. The most active rebar contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange settled 3.5 per cent down at 2893 yuan ($US420), the lowest since February 2. Iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange settled 3.3 per cent lower at 506 yuan, the lowest price since January 10. In late trading, Dalian iron ore slipped another 1.4 per cent to 504 yuan.
“Short-sellers are unleashing their energy” into a market where “confidence is nowhere to be found”, a trading source in Shanghai said told Metal Bulletin. “Liquidity remained dry for both seaborne and port cargoes, as mills and traders are both drawing down their iron ore stocks,” he added.
“We’re not seeing much interest on the buy side, everyone is nervous that the bottom is falling out,” said a commodities trader in Perth, Australia, who closely monitors activity on China’s Dalian and Shanghai Futures Exchanges for overseas clients.
Dalian coking coal was also swept up in the sell off, sliding 6.7 per cent to 1154.50 yuan a tonne, the weakest since February 10 while coke — made from coking coal — tumbled nearly 7 per cent to a one-month low of 1633.50 yuan.
Steel demand wavers
Sentiment also has turned somewhat negative on steel demand within China. On Wednesday, China reported that producer price inflation eased for the first time in seven months in March. Producer prices rose 7.6 per cent year-over-year last month, down from 7.8 per cent in February.
“This marks the first monthly decline in producer price inflation since August 2015 and reflects less rapid gains in the prices of many industrial commodities,” Capital Economics China economist Julian Evans-Pritchard wrote.
“Looking ahead, we expect producer price inflation to drop back further during the coming months as base effects become less favourable and economic activity begins to cool on the back of a tighter policy stance.”
There is rising concern about the outlook for China’s economy, with expectations that it will slow amid official efforts to cool a red-hot property market, contain debt risks and continuing efforts by the central bank to tighten monetary policy.
Most analysts agree the property market may pose the single biggest immediate risk to growth.
In March and early April, more than a dozen local governments imposed or tightened restrictions on home purchases and tightened mortgage down payment rules, after data showed housing prices, sales and investment remained strong, defying earlier cooling measures.
Increasingly tough measures are expected to slow activity in the property market eventually, but at the risk of a nasty crash that would damage the economy and consumer confidence.
China’s first-quarter GDP report ahead
At the same time, China’s central bank has shifted to a tightening bias and is using more targeted measures to contain risks in the financial system, after years of ultra-loose settings.
The People’s Bank of China has raised short-term interest rates modestly several times already this year and some market watchers expect one or two more hikes by year-end.
China will release first-quarter gross domestic product on April 17, along with March industrial output, retail sales and fixed asset investment.
China’s economy likely expanded by a solid 6.8 per cent in the first quarter, the same pace as the previous quarter, according to a Reuters poll of 60 economists.
Economists in the poll estimated GDP grew 1.6 per cent quarter-on-quarter, versus 1.7 per cent in the fourth quarter, though only 25 analysts gave sequential forecasts.
Industrial output likely grew at a steady 6.3 per cent pace in March, aided by a continuing construction boom and a pickup in export orders as global demand improves.
Fixed asset investment was expected to grow 8.8 per cent in the first quarter, easing marginally from 8.9 per cent in the first two months of the year.
Investors and policymakers will be watching for any further signs of improvement in private investment, which quickened in January and February after a sharp loss of momentum in the last few years.