COLUMN-Commodity price boom over, volume boom gathers pace – by Clyde Russell (Reuters U.S. – March 19, 2015)

LAUNCESTON, Australia, March 19 (Reuters) – It’s become conventional wisdom that the commodities boom is over, and while the era of rising prices is gone, figures from the Australian government suggest the surge in volumes is well under way.

Exports of iron ore will jump 22.5 percent between the 2014-15 fiscal year and 2019-20, while liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments will triple, according to the latest quarterly report from official forecaster, the Department of Industry.

Even the pressured coal sector is expected to post gains, with thermal coal exports climbing 16.6 percent over the period and those of metallurgical grades rising 7.3 percent.

Australia is the world’s top shipper of iron ore and metallurgical coal, number two in thermal coal and soon to take the lead in LNG, once the seven gas projects under construction are completed. But while the report, released on Wednesday, is relatively bullish about the outlook for export volumes, it’s another matter when it comes to prices.

Iron ore will average $60.40 a tonne in 2015, dropping to $56.80 next year before recovering to $64.60 in 2017, the department said. It expects the price recovery to continue to 2020, when it will reach $81.80 a tonne.

With Asian spot iron ore .IO62-CNI=SI dropping to $54.50 a tonne on Wednesday, the lowest since the data series began in late 2008, the forecast for this year already looks optimistic.

And the price increases from 2017 onwards are based on the view that Chinese imports will rise to 1.2 billion tonnes in 2020, from a forecast 935 million this year.

Again, this may be overly bullish as it assumes rising steel output in China as well as the shutting down of higher-cost domestic iron ore mines.

Staying with the steel industry, the department also expects Australia’s exports of metallurgical coal to rise to 203.9 million tonnes by the 2019-20 fiscal year, from 190 million in 2014-15.

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