Iron ore: how low can the price go?

This week’s price fall is the start of trend, not a blip

1 minute read

Having demonstrated remarkable resilience for the past two months, the price of iron ore took a big hit this week. Benchmark 62% Fe fines closed at US$80.20/tonne on Monday 23 March, back to the lows seen in early February.

Global recession is looming, but prior to this sell-off the iron ore price had barely responded. In contrast, as of Monday, the copper price was down 27% since the start of the year – a more ‘typical’ coronavirus-related price response for industrial metals and minerals.

We think iron ore's sell-off is the start of a trend, not a blip. So, why has it been so resilient, and what lies ahead?

This article is an excerpt from the insight ‘Iron ore: how low can it go?’. To read the full insight, fill in the form for a complimentary copy.

Why had iron ore fared so well until now?

Iron ore's initial outlier performance was due to a combination of factors:

  1. Resilient demand – especially in China where hot metal/pig iron production has held up remarkably well.
  2. Tight seaborne supply – nothing to do with coronavirus, but weather-related disruptions to loadings from Brazil and Australia at the start of the year.
  3. Disruptions to Chinese domestic mine production – mainly rail/trucking logistics, but also labour restrictions.
  4. Hope (arguably, misplaced)! The market has been taking a bet that Beijing's financial stimulus, targeted at steel-intensive construction and infrastructure, will be big enough and soon enough to offset the inevitable global recession.

What drives the price of iron ore?

China accounts for over 70% of global seaborne trade in iron ore and 95% of the growth that has occurred over the past two decades. The biggest single driver of seaborne iron ore pricing is Chinese production of pig iron – itself, a function of demand for steel within China’s construction and manufacturing sectors.

Right now, any assessment of the scale and duration of coronavirus-related damage to Chinese steel consumption (and demand for iron ore) is fraught with uncertainty. The impact of the outbreak is a constantly changing picture. For a snapshot of how we see the market right now fill in the form to read this insight in full.

What’s the price outlook for iron ore?

We are not yet looking at a glut of seaborne iron ore. But risks are escalating, and the balance is tilting towards a bigger hit to iron ore demand than supply. Targeted financial stimulus aimed at steel-intensive infrastructure should cushion the fall, but our pre-crisis forecast for an annual average price of US$80/tonne CFR is undoubtedly at risk.

Our view is that prices should gravitate towards US$70/tonne during the course of the year. But there are reasons prices could fall further. If demand turns out to be weaker than forecast and the iron ore market moves into acute oversupply, prices could fall as low as US$50/tonne. Once prices fall to this level they begin to approach the break-even of the major iron ore producers and a supply response becomes inevitable.

Find out more

To read more about the drivers and implications of the iron ore price fall, fill in the form at the top of this page to read the insight in full.


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