Warning Signs

BHP Billiton and Iron Ore Price.

In a previous blog `Are Steel Producers a Buy? I highlighted my concern for a potential significant decline in Iron Ore prices. Well, last Friday this key ingredient of Steel making, fell below $100 for the first time since its significant climb towards $200 started in early 2009. As you can see from the chart in that earlier blog, this price rise started just above production costs of around $40. So why am I highlighting this fall from grace? Iron Ore is, to me, like a litmus test of how big supply and demand in one of the most important construction materials is heading. This recent slide, from $145 in May, is not good. It has been driven by the significant fall in Steel prices to around $550 per ton. China is the key to all this price movement, firstly to the upside in the big push following the massive stimulus spending in 2009, and secondly, by overproduction now. The total production targets for China (in 2012) is another record at around 720 million tonnes. The problem is, no one seems to care where all this production ends up. Inventory is high in all elements of the production process and finished goods are stacked high around the country. A few drivers of the economy over the past decade are now suffering and they just happen to use a great deal of steel. Ship building (see numerous previous blogs) is imploding and will lose many yards to closure this and next year. Mining is starting to suffer as the raw material (Iron Ore) is of poor quality and cannot compete with overseas quality at this price. Coal is piled to the moon and back. Aluminium (see previous blog). Car inventories are very high at the forecourt with sales incentives getting bigger. The Iron Ore price is telling you that production cuts are around the corner. Interestingly, the lower steel price could have a big impact on countries that do not produce steel. Pakistan and Bangladesh for instance are two of the worlds big 5 players (India,Turkey,China) in ship demolition. The price they pay for an old ship is quoted in $`s per ton for the ships weight. The only reason they have become large players is the cost of labour. Instead of high technology, they use muscle. This is a very slow process. So when you buy a second hand ship and the steel price is stable or rising, all well and good. When it falls however, you are left holding a very expensive piece of rusting junk. As the price for scrapping ships falls with the steel price, more and more shipping companies will go under. The new price for ships is coming down so a vast inventory of ships will need to be revalued on company balance sheets which will frighten the hell out of the banks.

Despite the expectations of further money being thrown around by the global Central Banks, I believe that little things like higher VAT in Spain from September, the end of the Japanese government car scrappage scheme and the Greek pharmacist insisting on cash payments from the government to issue prescription`s from next week will all keep pressure on the bad news. With volume in the equity markets imploding over the summer, investment banking bonus`s will be non-existent. The big loser in that is of course that old whipping boy of my angst. the British government. The large chunk of income tax it receives early each calender year helps pay for some EU contributions or a new mansion for an African dictator. Not next year! The UK as I have said in many blogs, is on the verge of financial collapse. Just like Japan, it is all smoke and mirrors with huge liabilities not being accounted for with a budget shortfall which will grow in this fiscal, not decline as predicted. The government in Japan is expected to announce a reduction in economic expectations tomorrow, which is no surprise to several investment banks which have recently released research indicating they believe Q3 will be the start of another recession there.

So what about BHP? If you take a look at the charts on the blog first mentioned above. You will see the performance of BHP and the Iron Ore price. Whilst BHP mines an array of minerals, Iron Ore is the key to its success. Maybe the Chinese government will come to the rescue with a massive spending package  (driving steel consumption). In the meantime, I believe its share price is ripe for a 30% decline. To be fair I have warned of this before as I felt it would perform more in line with the commodity. The reality now is, it is exposed to a global slowdown. It has invested massive amounts in moving vast quantities of materials and they have to keep that machine running at full pelt. Unlike OPEC they cannot afford to turn the taps off until things settle down.

Is China causing global warming and seismic activity? As a side issue, a very rough estimate of Australia’s exports of commodities in the last decade must be around 10 billion tonnes.  A great deal of which, ended up in China. How much do you have to move from one side of the globe to the other, or from one tectonic plate to another to affect the earths rotation or plate movement?? Just a thought.

BRICs (see numerous previous blogs) of course have been given a big lift by the Iron Ore price in the past. If this current price fall is maintained for some time or weakens again, their economies will be hit very hard as will the mining machinery producers eg Joy Global and Caterpillar, both of whom I have highlighted in the past. I am sorry Jim O`neill but your theory could all be about to be exposed as a short term blip.

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Monday, August 27th, 2012 China, GDP, Japan, National Debt, Predictions, Shipping, Steel, UK

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