The price of iron ore in Australia has surged to an all-time high level and market shares in the mining companies are hitting new highs amid growing tensions with China.
The surge has raised concerns about market speculation with Chinese officials, who at the beginning of the month cut tariffs on some iron and steel inputs as a cooling measure, Nikkei Asia reported.The souring of political ties between China and Australia, tied to issues including restrictions on Huawei Technologies, blocked investment deals and investigations into the origins of the COVID pandemic, has cast a spotlight on the iron trade.
The supply and demand factors now working in the miners' favour could quickly change, with ore shipments from other sources disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic rebounding and Chinese steelmakers, the miners' best customers, coming under stronger pressure to reduce output.
"There are specific peculiarities in the market at the moment," Nikkei Asia quoted James McGlew, executive director at brokerage Argonaut as saying, adding that "It is volatile, and that has led to speculators moving in on the commodity (iron) as well."
Iron ore futures touched a record high of USD 233.10 a tonne last week according to S&P Global Platts. Although they have settled back, prices remain significantly higher than the average USD 160 a ton seen earlier this year and are running about double year-ago levels.
Over the past year, China has taken measures to block or curb imports of cotton, barley, beef, lobsters, timber and wine from Australia, but not iron. According to trade data, Australia supplies 60 per cent of China's ore imports while China takes 70 per cent of Australia's exports.
After the trading battles last week, commodity exchanges in Dalian and Shanghai moved to raise margin requirements and trading fees for iron contracts, among other measures. The moves initially knocked ore prices back down as low as USD 187 a ton yet the China Iron and Steel Association, representing local producers, called for the authorities to go further in curbing speculative activity, Nikkei Asia reported.
By Tuesday, iron ore futures were back up to about USD 215 a ton.
On Tuesday, China's National Development and Reform Commission said that it would investigate iron ore trading activity while encouraging domestic exploration and the development of new import channels.
Meanwhile, Canberra is expecting a AUD 30 billion (USD 23.38 billion) tax windfall out of record ore exports of USD 104 billion forecast for the year ending June 30, Nikkei Asia reported.