Iron ore keeps getting told the end may be nigh: so far in 2017, the response has been that the endâ€™s just another high. The raw materialâ€™s rally has been powerful enough to drive futures in China back to $100 a metric ton as spot prices trade at levels last seen in 2014.
On the Dalian Commodity Exchange, most-active futures surged as much as 8.3 percent to 694 yuan ($101) a ton and settled at 688 yuan at 3 p.m. local time, while SGX AsiaClear futures in Singapore rallied to $85.79. On Thursday, spot ore with 62 percent content in Qingdao rose to $83.84 a dry ton, the highest since October 2014,
according to Metal Bulletin Ltd.
Iron ore rallied in 2016 as China added stimulus, supporting steel production and confounding bears whoâ€™d highlighted prospects for additional low-cost output and concerns that the top buyer wouldnâ€™t be able to absorb the supply. The same dynamic has been at play in recent weeks, with banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. flagging risks of weaker prices over the course of 2017 even though near-term support was seen as strong. Fridayâ€™s gain came amid optimism about the immediate outlook for consumption.
â€œConstruction demand is returning, with developers reportedly buying steel now even if they have not resumed construction on certain projects,â€ Tomas Gutierrez, an analyst at consultancy Kallanish Commodities Ltd., said in an e-mail. â€œThe second half of the year is likely to contain surprises and lower prices, but for the moment traders and steelmakers plan to make the most of a relatively strong market in the coming weeks.â€
Data from China on Friday pointed to robust demand for iron ore, as well as steel, as imports of the raw material rose while overseas sales of steel fell. Iron imports gained 12 percent to 92 million tons in January from a year ago, according to customs data. Sales of steel were at the lowest since 2014.
With stockpiles of iron ore at Chinaâ€™s ports at a record and miners including Brazilâ€™s Vale SA bringing on new supply, Liberum Capital Ltd. is among forecasters seeing lower prices, predicting a drop back below $50 in the second half. Citigroup Inc. has said it sees a sharp correction, while top forecaster RBC Capital Markets described prices in January as unsustainable.
Minersâ€™ shares are benefiting from the rally. Rio Tinto Group, which this week reported its first profit gain since 2013, is up 10 percent this year in Sydney, while Vale has jumped 26 percent. In the US, Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. surged 19 percent on Thursday, the most since May.
Not everyone is bearish. Prices may average $73 this year, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co., which sees them at $71 in the third quarter and $66 in the final three months. Last month, Singapore Exchange Ltd., which operates derivatives contracts that help to set global prices, said a survey of industry participants showed most expected rates to hold firm or gain.