Australia at the Bottom of the Global Iron Ore Cost Curve: Ken Research



Ken Research announced its latest publication on, “Global Iron Ore Cost Curve”, offer insights on the changing trends and potential opportunities within the Global Iron Ore Industry. The publication includes an insightful analysis of iron ore categories, Global iron ore industry structure, production cost: mining, processing, admin, freight and royalties, competitive landscape and performance assessment of iron ore companies. The analysis of the aforementioned trends has been done for 70 iron ore operations, across 30 companies, ranging from the large producers , such as Rio Tinto, Vale and BHP Billiton, to one-mine companies, such as BC Iron, and large steel producers, such as Arcelor Mittal.
Overview of Global Iron Ore Industry
Iron is most important commodity used across the globe. Increasing infrastructure development and industrialization has accelerated the demand for iron. Hence, the demand for iron is increasing at a high pace across the globe. The amount of extraction and usage can be directly correlated with any country’s GDP. Iron is widely used in structural engineering application, maritime purpose, automobiles and general industrial application. Hence, with increasing GDP in every country, the demand for iron ore is expected to grow driving the global mining industry.
Looking from the production perspective, China is one of the largest producer of iron ore but also it is largest importer as well, reason being inferior quality of iron ore produced there(17-20% FE content as compared to average 62% FE content worldwide) and the economic boom that resulted in an unprecedented rise in demand for iron ore. After china japan is second largest producer, followed by USA and Germany.Over the past decade iron ore prices have hit record highs due to China’s rapid development and growth. As China slows its growth to more sustainable levels, the unprecedented demand for iron ore and steel is slowing but still remains strong.
Apart from prices, cost of iron ore production plays a vital role in the strategic business decisions of the iron ore producers especially miners. Going by the country level data, Australia is the lowest-cost producer of iron ore, significantly below the global average due to its abundant high-grade hematite ores (iron content of 62.5% and above) and extensive infrastructure facilities.While Brazil has abundant hematite deposits,Australian producers hold a cost advantage over their Brazilian counterparts due to their geographic proximity to China. Due to infrastructural constraints in India and deteriorating ore grades in China, both countries are positioned near the top of the iron ore cost curve. West Africa especially Guinea, Liberia and Sierra, is poised to become the new iron ore producers as extensive efforts are being made to discover some of the world-class deposits in the region.
Global Iron Ore Cost Curve, March 2016: Key Findings
The Global Iron Ore Cost Curve for March, 2016 quarter reports the current updated cash cost positions of iron ore producers. As per the report:
• Further reduction in cost of iron ore production have been achieved by the producers as a result of lower average oil prices in the quarter and shut down of high cost mines.
• The Australian Big 3, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and FMG, has safely maintained their largest producer position in 2015. This was followed by the Mesa operations run by Rio Tinto. These operations are all in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. As Hematite operations, they produce predominately lumps and fines, both of which are direct shipping ores (DSO) which lowers their processing costs.
• Also, all-in cash breakeven for the seaborne iron ore producers is below USD63/dmt cfr.Compared to previous 6 months in 2015, global iron ore producers have managed to lower their breakeven costs by up to USD15/t. The breakeven range for the producers is now USD27-63/Mt cfr.
• The iron ore supply has been below expected level, hence March, 2016 has been a weak quarter. Bad weather in Australia and Brazil, among others, obstructed the growth of iron ore production.
Major Players in the Global Iron Ore Industry
Global iron ore industry is a huge with market players ranging from large producers, such as Rio Tinto, Vale and BHP Billiton, to one-mine companies, such as BC Iron, and large steel producers, such as Arcelor Mittal. Some of the major iron ore producers include: BHP Billiton, Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation, Sinosteel Corporation, Hancock Prospecting Pty Limited, Rio Tinto, Sumitomo Corporation, Mitsui & Co, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, Vale, Cliffs Natural Resource Inc, FMG, Mount Gibson, Arrium, Ferrexpo, Vedanta, African Rainbow Minerals, Assore Limited, Arcelor Mittal, BC Iron Limited, Atlas Iron, Cliffs Natural Resources, CAP SA, Anglo American, USSC, Grange Resources, Stemcore Holdings Limited, Ternium SA, RZR Ljubija a.d. Prijedor.
However the dominant three iron ore producers are Rio Tinto, Vale and BHP Billiton, accounting not only for largest share of world production but also have the lowest-cost operations, reason being abundant high grade mineral ores, efficient infrastructure and close proximity to China.
Prospects for Global Iron Ore Industry: Production Cost Perspective
March, 2016 quarter registered global iron ore supply below the expected level. As compared to 2015, even the largest global producers Rio Tinto, Vale, BHP Billiton and FMG posted lower iron ore production. However, with the iron ore pricesgetting back above USD70/dmt cfr due restocking, better quality steel spreads and reduced iron ore supply, we expect iron ore production to increase as the major producers increase their production to capacity level. Rio Tinto, Vale and BHP Billiton, along with their low cost operations, will continue to maintain their dominant position in the iron ore industry.Low strip ratios will ensure most operations have low mining costs per tonne.
Looking at key iron ore producing countries, Australia, the global cost leader, will maintain its position, while India and China, will remain near the top of the iron cost curve. One major expectation for the global iron ore industry is the iron ore boom in West Africa and expansion of African iron ore industry, with Guinea expected to become the one of the largest global exporter of iron ore and largest producer in African region by 2017.The region has world class iron ore deposits that are being explored substantially.
In coming years, challenges such as rising cost due to tax hikes and labour cost increases, declining ore grades in China, infrastructural constraints in India etc. may limit the cost reduction capacity of iron ore producers and hence growth of global iron ore industry, according to Ken Research.


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