Thursday, May 1, 2014

Copper, iron ore prices gap down again amid credit crackdown

The benchmark iron ore price was hammered again on Wednesday, capping an awful April which saw the steelmaking raw material lose almost 10% in value.

According to data from the The Steel Index, the import price of 62% iron ore fines at China’s Tianjin port fell sharply to $105.40 per tonne, down 2.7% on the day amid worries about curbs on commodity-linked financing deals.

It’s practice in credit-scarce China for commodity traders and industries to use metals as collateral for short-term financing deals.

Some estimates put the portion of iron ore inventories that is used for trade credit at 40%. This week stockpiles at the country’s ports jumped to a record 110 million tonnes, up 25% since the start of the year.

Now that Beijing is cracking down on the practice and a weakening yuan – another deliberate move by authorities – push deals under water, much of that ore could find its way back onto the market creating a vicious circle.

Reports suggest new regulations aiming to tackle the county’s vast shadow banking system and due to take effect after the Labour Day holidays starting tomorrow will raise deposit requirements on letters of credit.

Iron ore clawed its way back from 18-month lows struck mid-March but remains 20% down year to date

The crackdown is also being blamed for the weakness in copper, which thanks to portability and ease of storage copper is even more widely used in these types of transactions.

July copper futures in New York were last trading at $3.022 a pound, down nearly 6 cents on the day and in fierce retreat since hitting seven-week highs on Monday.

China buys more than two-thirds of the world’s seaborne ore and forges as much steel as the rest of the world combined, while the country is also responsible for 42% of global copper demand.

Iron ore clawed its way back from 18-month lows struck in mid-March but is now in danger of breaching those lows, and remains 20% lower than at the start of the year.

Copper has also recovered from near 4-year lows around the same time, but has declined more than 10% since the start of the year.

Frik Els | April 30, 2014

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