Australia expects to produce record tonnages of iron ore through much of the decade, nearly all of which will be used to manufacture steel in China, shrugging off signs demand was cooling off and that prices would drop.
Australia raised its forecast on Wednesday for iron ore exports in the current fiscal year by nearly 3 per cent to 473 million tonnes, and also sounded a bullish note on the outlook for shipments in the longer term.
While China trimmed its economic growth target for this year to an eight-year low of 7.5 per cent, big miners are betting on a soft landing for the world’s second-biggest economy and forging ahead with longer-term iron ore output expansion plans.
“Nobody’s saying that demand growth in China for iron ore is going to go away, just that growth rates will not be as high as they were,” said Mike Young, managing director of BC Iron, which relies on ore sales to China for all its revenue.
“We don’t see this as a negative, just maybe a less positive.” A warning from the world’s largest miner, BHP Billiton, on Tuesday that China’s iron ore demand was “flattening” sparked a sharp drop in mining shares and shaved a cent off the Australian dollar.
But industry experts said China’s import demand would continue growing over the next several years, albeit at a slower pace, which should be enough reason for commodity producers to continue to expand output.
“In terms of the needs to ramp up their infrastructure and housing, for a long time to come I don’t think you’ll find any particular country that will displace China as the key determinant of marginal demand for commodities,” said Vishnu Varathan, market economist for Mizuho Corporate Bank in Singapore.
At 473 million tonnes annually, Australian production could meet more than half of Chinese demand for iron ore, and is a 16 pct increase from fiscal 2010/2011 exports of 407 million tonnes.
Laura Brooks, an analyst with the London-based Commodities Research Unit, said she expects Chinese demand will remain “robust and supply tight” for now as new iron ore projects are pushed back due to funding and infrastructure constraints.