SINGAPORE/SHANGHAI – (Reuters) – The world’s big three iron ore miners appear to be entering the final phase of a fight to increase market share in China as massive expansions drive more high-cost rivals out of business.
The global giants have met stubborn resistance after many big Chinese miners kept producing despite weaker iron ore prices, helping push prices far lower than Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Vale envisaged when they began to flood the world with ore two years ago.
However, cracks are starting to appear in even China’s resilient state-mining sector, where mines can have production costs 20-50 percent above the market but also employ thousands of workers and are aligned with big steel makers.
One mine in Beijing that produces about 2 million tonnes of iron ore concentrate a year plans to suspend production for one-and-a-half months from this month, the first state-owned mine to do so, industry sources said.
Further price falls would bring more mine closures, said analyst Zhao Chaoyue, with China Merchant Futures in Guangzhou. “That includes some state-owned mines owned by steel mills, which are likely to give up their own iron ore output and turn to cheap imported ore too,” Zhao said.
State-owned steel producers such as Angang Group, Shougang Corp and Hebei Iron and Steel own a big chunk of the country’s iron ore mines.
Angang declined to comment but its iron ore arm said on its website that its growth would “play a role in fighting against foreign monopolies” as well as “safeguarding national economic security”. Officials at Shougang and Hebei Steel could not be reached for comment.
The lower prices are also forcing smaller miners in Australia, Canada and elsewhere to shutter production, helping the big miners to tighten their grip on the Chinese market, which accounts for two thirds of global demand.
Ore shipments to China rose 14 percent last year even as its steel output was nearly flat. China’s own raw ore production fell in the final quarter of 2014, and industry executives estimate a third of mines have halted production.
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