Investors in the iron ore sector may be feeling somewhat encouraged after the iron ore price rose again overnight, climbing 0.6% to US$39.43 a tonne, according to The Metal Bulletin.
Before they get their hopes up however, it’d be worth noting that Goldman Sachs has just downgraded its guidance for the commodity, and expects it to remain below US$40 a tonne, on average, for the next three years.
Indeed, according to The Australian Financial Review this morning, the investment bank thinks iron ore will trade at just US$38 a metric tonne next year, and then US$35 a tonne in both 2017 and 2018. It’s also worth pointing out that those are forecasts for its average price, suggesting it could fall below those levels – others have suggested it could fall below US$30 at some point in the near future.
At its current price tag, iron ore is worth more than 70% less than it was at the beginning of the 2014 calendar year when it was fetching roughly US$135 a tonne. Back in 2011, a tonne of the steelmaking ingredient cost north of US$180.
Since then however, the commodity’s value has plummeted as a result of excess production from the world’s biggest miners, combined with a sharp downturn in the rate of growth of China’s economy. The AFR also referred to Goldman Sachs’ suggestion that by 2040, China’s iron ore demand may contract by 50% as steel consumption drops, and greater recycling efforts see more scrap metals being used instead.
This is particularly bad news for a number of Australia’s smaller miners, most of which run higher-cost operations and produce lower quality ore. A weak Australian dollar will support them to some degree but companies like Arrium Limited (ASX: ARI), Mount Gibson Iron Limited (ASX: MGX) and BC Iron Limited (ASX: BCI) are amongst those most at risk.
Although the majors maintain lower cost operations, lower iron ore prices will still constrict their margins which could put a real squeeze on earnings, and perhaps even dividends. The share prices of BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP), Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO) and Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX: FMG) have fallen heavily this year, but they still present as risky investment prospects today.