Survival of the finest: miners reboot as smog-hit China seeks high grade ore


BEIJING/MANILA (Reuters) – For miners looking for to cater to the altering urge for food of China, the world’s largest iron ore importer, all eyes are on Tangshan, the nation’s largest steel-making metropolis and the drastic measures it’s taking to rein in air pollution.

FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from a chimney amongst homes as new high-rise residential buildings are seen beneath development on a hazy day within the metropolis centre of Tangshan, Hebei province on this February 18, 2014 file photograph. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic/File Photograph

It has simply advised mills within the metropolis that manufacturing cuts, initially set at about 10-15 p.c and in place from Could to November, have to go additional with some companies going through curbs of as much as 50 p.c through the summer season.

Tangshan has additionally warned mills they may face closure in the event that they don’t meet emission targets by October. The steps are on the forefront of a crackdown by Beijing, which this month flagged a widening of anti-smog targets to 82 cities from 28 now.

The impression on pricing for iron ore has been dramatic and miners are scrambling to revamp their methods in response.

For decrease grade ore, the place the iron content material is under 60 p.c, reductions to larger grade materials have widened considerably. In distinction, premiums for high-grade pellets, which might be shoveled straight right into a metal furnace and don’t undergo a extremely pollutive course of known as sintering, have surged.

“The period for China to purchase low cost low-grade ore with a view to be value efficient has handed. What China wants now and sooner or later might be extra refined ore, with larger iron and decrease impurity content material,” mentioned Zhang Kun, a Beijing-based iron ore dealer at Harmony Fortune.

The slew of trade initiatives features a makeover for No. 2 iron ore miner Rio Tinto Ltd’s flagship iron ore product, sources with data of the matter advised Reuters.

Its Pilbara Mix (PB) fines, the benchmark for fines, can have much less alumina and might be much less pollutive after a part of the mix was eliminated and launched as a separate medium ore grade known as RTX final week, they mentioned.

“The principle goal of this transfer is to keep up the competitiveness of our mainstream product, PB fines, within the Chinese language market after seeing smaller premiums up to now quarter,” mentioned an organization supply, who was not approved to talk to the media and didn’t wish to be recognized.

Rio Tinto declined to touch upon its product line-up.


Of the massive 4 iron ore miners, Brazil’s Vale stands to profit probably the most from the market shift, significantly from the leap in Chinese language demand for pellets – one of many few choices for mills when output curbs kick in on heavy smog days.

“Our stock for sintered ore is operating low attributable to frequent manufacturing curbs. I’m keen to pay no matter it prices to replenish and add shares for pellets,” mentioned a supervisor at a home metal mill in Tangshan, declining to be recognized as he was not approved to talk to media.

The benchmark worth for 65 p.c iron content material pellets has shot up by a fifth over the previous yr, in response to Steel Bulletin, whereas the premium on pellets over 62-percent fines surged to $56.84 a tonne on July 6, not far off a report $65.40 reached final October.

For graphic on premium of high-grade iron ore pellets vs medium-grade iron ore fines click on

Vale produces almost a 3rd of the world’s pellets for export and has restarted some idled pelletising crops to account for a drop-off in output after a 2015 dam catastrophe closed its Samarco enterprise with BHP.

And it has a leg up on rivals with high-grade fines attributable to its large S11D iron ore mine in Vale’s rich-grade Carajas useful resource complicated that began delivery out ore final yr.

China’s use of pellets is round 12-13 p.c of its iron ore consumption, low in comparison with Europe the place it’s 33 p.c, in response to consultancy CRU Worldwide, including that imports account for simply 13 p.c.

China’s annual pellet consumption is predicted to extend 14 p.c over the subsequent 5 years to round 160 million tonnes as Brazil boosts pellet manufacturing and extra pellet turns into accessible elsewhere, mentioned Erik Hedborg, senior analyst for iron ore at CRU.


In contrast, of the opposite three, solely Rio at present has a presence in pellets though that’s not in Australia from which it ships most of its iron ore.

As a substitute the secret is bettering the standard of fines, with BHP and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd just lately saying new mine investments.

BHP mentioned final month it could spend $2.9 billion on its South Flank iron ore mission, aiming to boost the typical grade of its Western Australian iron ore to 62 p.c from 61 p.c. And in Could, Fortescue signed off on a $1.28 billion mine and rail mission, additionally in Western Australia, that’s anticipated to yield ore nearer to 62 p.c.

Fortescue is beneath strain as a result of low cost for decrease grade ore. Costs for 58-percent ore, an identical degree to Fortescue’s product, have been buying and selling at a reduction of about 40 p.c to the 62-percent benchmark because the begin of the yr.

For graphic on worth hole between medium-grade and low-grade iron ore click on

Income for Fortescue, an iron ore specialist, have been hit laborious, with earnings earlier than curiosity, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) tumbling 31 p.c on weak costs within the six months to end-December. In contrast, Rio’s iron ore EBITDA climbed 16 p.c in the identical interval, whereas Vale’s rose 6 p.c and BHP’s gained three.5 p.c.

Fortescue, whose China gross sales dropped to 89 p.c of whole gross sales in January-March from 95 p.c within the earlier monetary yr, is now trying to different markets to tackle extra of its decrease grade ore.

“We’re additionally persevering with to develop markets throughout all the expansion economies with clients in North and South East Asia and India,” mentioned Binjun Zhuang, group supervisor for China enterprise growth at Fortescue.

Strong income for Chinese language mills have helped drive demand for larger grade ore, he mentioned, however added that when profitability moderates, mills will refocus on enter prices, rising demand for merchandise like Fortescue’s.

Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr. in Manila and Muyu Xu in Beijing; Modifying by Edwina Gibbs

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