RPT-COLUMN-Robust China iron ore imports in March may be highwater mark – by Clyde Russell (Reuters U.S. – April 3, 2017)


China’s appetite for iron ore is likely to have continued unabated in March, but it seems increasingly likely that the first quarter of 2017 may prove to be as good as it gets this year for imports of the steel-making ingredient.

China imported 90.3 million tonnes of iron ore in March, according to vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Thomson Reuters Supply Chain and Commodity Forecasts.

If the estimate is matched by official customs figures, due next week, it will be only the fifth time that monthly imports have exceeded 90 million tonnes, the other occasions being January this year, November and September last year and in December 2015.

The vessel-tracking and port data is typically more conservative than customs data, undercounting by 3.5 percent over 2016, meaning that the risk is that March imports are higher than suggested by the data. China’s imports of iron ore in the first quarter of 2017 have been robust, mainly on the back of strong steel prices and optimism about the resilience of the construction and infrastructure sectors, the main steel consumers.

But there are already signs that the market is realising it got ahead of itself, with spot iron ore prices .IO62-CNO=MB ending last week at $80.39 a tonne, down 15 percent from the peak this year on Feb. 21.

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