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Steelmakers Likely to Accept Price Rise
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China's steelmakers will probably accept a 19 percent increase in iron ore prices, falling in line with the benchmark agreed by European and Japanese companies, a Baosteel Group Corp executive involved in the talks said.


Baosteel will meet suppliers Cia Vale do Rio Doce, Rio Tinto Group and BHP Billiton in June, said the executive who declined to be identified before the meeting takes place. Chen Ying, the spokeswoman for Baoshan Iron & Steel Co, Baosteel's publicly traded unit, declined to comment.


China's steelmakers, which account for 43 percent of global imports of iron ore, tried to set prices after a record increase in 2005. Their bargaining position weakened on May 16 when Germany's ThyssenKrupp AG became the first steelmaker globally to agree to the new price.


"There is no room left for China to manoeuvre," said Fu Hao, who helps manage about US$500 million at E-Fund Management Co, from Guangdong. "That's the reality."


The 19 percent advance is the second-biggest price jump in 25 years, according to ABN Amro. Prices rose a record 71.5 percent last year due to demand from China, which is increasing steel output to make more cars, factories and houses.


Beijing meeting


The probable acceptance by Chinese steelmakers marks the end of more than half a year of negotiations, with Rio de Janeiro-based Vale initially asking for a 24.6 percent price increase and the Chinese refusing any.


The Chinese Government also capped prices of ore delivered on the spot market during the negotiating period, and said it was keeping a close watch over the talks.


China's Iron and Steel Association yesterday convened an iron ore conference to discuss the price talks attended by 16 steelmakers, according to www.mysteel.com, a Chinese steel industry website. China Iron & Steel Association Vice-Chairman Qi Xiangdong declined to comment.


Vale, the world's largest iron-ore producer, expects Chinese steelmakers to accept the 19 percent increase, Agencia Globo reported yesterday, citing the company's chief of planning Gabriel Stoliar. An accord with the Chinese companies is "certain," Stoliar said.


"It's become a take it or leave it situation," said David McDonald, who helps manage US$76 million in Australian equities at Allianz Global Investors Australia Ltd. "The Chinese have tried very hard, but it just goes to show the dominance of the iron ore suppliers and how tight the market is."


Vale, BHP Billiton and Rio account for 75 percent of global seaborne iron ore trade. Their bargaining position was strengthened after cyclones and a rail disruption cut supplies from Australia and Brazil in the March quarter.


Chinese steelmakers have also been buying ore on the cash market from Indian suppliers at prices that are 35 percent higher than a year ago, said Rodrigo Barros, a mining company analyst with the brokerage unit of Uniao de Bancos Brasileiros SA in Sao Paulo on May 18.


"The iron ore price increase may prompt Chinese steelmakers to raise product prices further to cover costs," said Zheng Dong, head of metals research at Guosen Securities Co, in Beijing yesterday.


Baoshan Steel raised prices of cold-rolled steel by as much as 13 percent for the quarter to September, the company said in a statement.


BHP Billiton spokeswoman Samantha Evans and Rio Tinto spokesman Ian Head in Melbourne declined to comment.


Chinese steelmakers had wanted more say in this year's talks to reflect their role as the world's largest buyer of iron ore. China tripled imports in the past five years, and overtook Japan as the single-largest buyer in 2003.


Chinese imports of iron ore have risen by 23.5 percent to 108 million tons in the first four months of the year, the Beijing-based customs office said. Steel output in the country, the world's largest producer, reached a record 38.3 million tons last month, an increase of 27.5 percent from a year ago, the Beijing-based Mainland Marketing Research Co said.


(China Daily May 31, 2006)


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