RESEARCH: Iron ore prices to remain strong into 2021, Australian coking coal prices hint recovery
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- The bullish price run in the iron ore market continued for a sixth week in a row with the 62% Fe benchmark soaring to a near eight-year high. Looking ahead, iron ore demand in 2021 is projected to be stronger than initially expected earlier in the year. We not only anticipate continued demand growth in China, but a recovery in the rest of the world as well, with crude steel production resuming in other Asian and European countries. As the year approaches the end, it has become clear that the Chinese crude steel output recovery after the lockdown in the first quarter was not just a temporary phenomenon, but it drove the appetite for iron ore persistently higher throughout this year. But the recent price rally has caught the attention of Chinese steel mills and China Iron & Steel Association (Cisa) called for a probe into the price rise and the alleged increased speculative trading in the market. A similar action was taken by Cisa last summer. It has been argued that this scrutiny later helped trigger a downward trend in the iron ore price.
- In the coking coal market, prices hinted a recovery last week beyond the Chinese market after China import and Australia export prices had been diverging since early November, following an introduction of a verbal ban on imports of Australia-origin coals. The ban also affected export volumes out of Australia to an extent. In both October and November, coal shipments from North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP) were below the 10-million-tonne mark, which is a rare scenario. As prices still continue the uptrend within China, for both metallurgical coke and coal, the downside risks to coal prices elsewhere are anticipated to recede further. Although the Chinese ban is likely to last, with European steel producers expected to continue to successfully raise prices and not lose market share during the next few months, this trend will support import coking coal and coke demand in the region, and consequently Australian export coal prices.
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