Iron ore declined sooner than expected this year as supplies exceeded demand and prices are unlikely to recover, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which said 2014 will mark the end of a so-called iron age.
This year “is the inflection point where new production capacity finally catches up with demand growth, and profit margins begin their reversion to the historical mean,” analysts Christian Lelong and Amber Cai wrote in a report today titled: “The end of the Iron Age.” The 2016 forecast for seaborne ore was cut to $79 a metric ton from $82 and the 2017 outlook was reduced to $78 from $85, according to the New-York based bank, which stuck with a forecast for $80 next year.
The raw material tumbled into a bear market this year as the biggest producers including Rio Tinto (RIO) Group expanded low-cost output, betting higher volumes would more than offset falling prices while less competitive mines were forced to close. The decline in prices came sooner than expected, according to Goldman, which said in November that iron ore would probably drop at least 15 percent this year. The commodity is seen in a structural downtrend, JPMorgan Chase & Co. said today.
“The price decline has been dramatic, but a weak demand outlook in China and the structural nature of the surplus make a recovery unlikely,” Lelong and Cai wrote. “Lower prices for iron ore and steel are unlikely to boost demand in a material way. Instead, the day when steel production in China will peak gets ever closer.”
Ore with 62 percent content at the Chinese port of Qingdao fell 39 percent to $82.22 a dry ton this year, the lowest level since September 2009, according to data from Metal Bulletin Ltd. The Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM), which doesn’t include iron ore as a member, lost 2 percent in the period. Within the index, soybeans fell the most.
Before the surplus emerged, iron ore supplies were tight and producers had above-trend profits even as costs increased, according to Lelong and Cai. That period, dubbed by the bank as the Iron Age, is now ending, they wrote.
“The current exploitation phase in iron ore could last for a decade,” the analysts wrote. “Iron ore markets went through a 20-year period of declining prices in real terms during the previous exploitation phase that ended in 2004.”
The global surplus will more than triple to 163 million tons in 2015 from 52 million tons this year, according to Goldman. The glut was seen expanding to 245 million tons in 2016 295 million tons in 2017 and 334 million tons in 2018.
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