Indian Steel Companies to Ramp Up Iron-Ore Imports


Indian steel companies, faced with a domestic shortage of iron ore, are cranking up imports to capitalize on international prices that are near two-year lows.

While certain to be welcomed by global iron-ore miners, the rise in Indian imports is unlikely to have a lasting impact on international prices, given slowing demand from China and an expanding supply.

JSW Steel, one of India's largest steel producers, will import 500,000 metric tons of high-grade ore in July-August from South Africa, Canada and Australia, at a landed price of around $91.5 a ton, after paying a 2.5% import tax, according to people with direct knowledge of the purchases.

The price for ore with 62% iron content delivered to China's Tianjin port, a regional benchmark, was $89.3 a ton Tuesday, according to The Steel Index, far below the $139.7 a ton seen in early December last year. Iron ore is a key ingredient in steel.

JSW Steel also plans to import 500,000 tons of iron ore from October to December, the people said.

Separately, Tata Steel Ltd., one of India's top steel producers, recently imported around 140,000 tons of iron ore in two separate shipments, according to a person familiar with the matter.

A JSW Steel executive, who declined to be identified, said these were the company's first iron-ore imports this year and that it had never imported such large volumes.

Basant Poddar, vice chairman of Federation of Indian Mineral Industries, said he expected total Indian imports to reach 10 million-15 million tons this financial year ending in March, compared with 500,000 tons last year. He said it made sense for port-based steel plants to import high-grade ores as the imported price was nearly comparable to lower-grade Indian ores.

Further out, imports could accelerate.

"Recent plans to increase Indian imports of iron ore show that India will be increasingly reliant on commodities from other countries, which is likely to be an upside risk to iron ore and other hard commodity prices," said Paul Bloxham, HSBC's chief economist for Australia and New Zealand.

India's pressing need for infrastructure and housing means its demand for iron ore and other hard commodities is likely to get much stronger when such investment materializes, he said.

"The recent change of government means there is more optimism about India's investment outlook than there has been in a number of years," he said.

Domestic steel producers have approached the new Bhartiya Janata Party-led government about scrapping a 2.55% import tax on iron ore, said an industry executive. The government is due to release its first budget in July.

Helen Lau, senior analyst with UOB Kay Hian, said India's imports may only have a marginal effect on prices, at least in the short-term. She pointed out that India's imports are tiny compared to China's. In 2013, China imported 819 million tons of iron ore and it has more than 100 million tons stockpiled at its ports, she noted.

India's domestic iron-ore production is expected to fall by 7% to around 125 million tons this financial year. A majority of mines in two key provinces—Karnataka and Goa—have yet to resume normal operations despite a partial lifting of court-ordered mining bans.

Domestic output has been hit also by a Supreme Court order that a number of mines in the mineral-rich eastern state of Orissa must reapply for mining permission.

Source:Wall Street Journal

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