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Global iron ore markets continue firm and prices should rise in the second half and next year amid expectations that Indian exports will fall and China will launch incentives that could boost steel demand, according to participants in this week's Rio Investors' Day conference in Rio de Janeiro.
Iron ore spot prices delivered to China should average $150 a metric ton this year, rising to $165 a ton in 2013, said Goldman Sachs (GS) mining and metals analyst Marcelo Aguiar. Prices in the second half will rebound from the current levels of around $131.3 a ton as India enters its monsoon season next month, which will inhibit Indian exports of the steelmaking raw material, and Chinese inventories fall as steelmaking levels are currently at record highs, the analyst said.
Iron ore prices have fallen from a recent peak of $181 a ton in early September 2011 after the government in China, which consumes over 60% of the world's entire iron ore supplies, introduced measures to curb credit amid inflationary fear as the property market overheated. A new package of consumer incentive measures, which would favor steel and ore consumption, is now expected as the economic growth rate has tempered.
"The measures put a enormous brake on the property sectors and the construction of low-cost housing," Aguiar said.
Average iron ore prices this year will still be lower than the $168 a ton of 2011, according to London-based price provider The Steel Index.
Vale investor relations coordinator Vitor Moszkowicz said that demand for iron ore continues firm and that Vale is already sold out for this year. The company is "optimistic" that it will maintain its $21.4 billion investment program for this year, and that it will gain before the end of the first half the preliminary environmental license to proceed with development of its major Serra Sul iron ore project in Carajas, north Brazil, which will bring it a further 90 million tons of iron ore production capacity.
The Serra Sul project is important for Vale to maintain its place as the world's top quality ore supplier, according to Moszkowicz.
On May 18 Vale's ferrous and strategies executive director Jose Carlos Martins said iron ore prices had recently slipped back due to more supplies coming onto the market from both Australia and Brazil, following the rains which inhibited shipments early in the year. "At the moment the market's more favorable to buyers," he said.
Iron ore prices can be expected to remain volatile for the foreseeable future, in the $120-$180 a ton range, he said.
The new iron ore trading exchange opened in Beijing May 8 hasn't yet seen many trades but should exercise an important role in lending more transparency to iron ore trading, the Vale executive said.
Billionaire Eike Batista, controller of Brazilian iron ore miner MMX Mineracao e Metalicos SA (MMXM3.BR) said he currently sees no problems with Chinese iron ore demand.
Brazilian steelmakers are also confident their margins will improve in the second half, despite the omnipresent specter of global steelmaking overcapacity.
"There's been volatility in recent months but we hope for a recovery in the second half," said Companhia Siderurgica Nacional SA (CSNA3.BR, SID) investor relations director David Salama. The Brazilian market is set to grow at a "moderate" 5%-6% rate this year and prospects are "reasonable" due to the weaker real and measures to restrict steel imports, he said.
Gerdau Group executive Harley Lorentz Scardoelli said market prospects in Brazil and North America continue good, although turbulence stemming from the debt problems in Europe could have a negative impact.
The steelmaker's North American operations continue on a "slow, gradual but constant recovery" path, he said.
Steelmaker Usinas Siderurgicas de Minas Gerais SA (USIM5.BR, USZNY), or Usiminas's chief financial officer Ronald Seckelmann said that hopes early in the year of a strong recovery in investments in Brazil have been frustrated as the country's GDP growth expectations for the year have now fallen to 3% at the most.
-By Diana Kinch, Dow Jones Newswires, 55 21 7564 4495; diana.Kinch@dowjones.com