On the last day of Roundup, Vancouver’s mining showcase, Sandy Chim CEO of Canada’s Century Iron Mines, flashed a few slides about China, India and the iron ore market over the last decade that would make gold bugs green with envy.
BHP, Vale and Rio Tinto control nearly 70% of the 1 billion tonne annual iron ore seaborne trade and pretty much all contract pricing depend on their say so. The price of 62% iron ore never strayed from $10 – 14/tonne for more than 20 years (1991 was a banner year – miners got all of $15.03 for their haul). The state of affairs was due to secretive negotiations and annual contracts.
Then at the end of 2004 all hell (for Chinese steelmakers that is) broke loose. The Big 3 decided enough is enough and put up the price 72%, marking the start of a supercycle and the beginning of the end of the old pricing system.