February 27, 2020 / 5:34 AM / a month ago

China, Singapore iron ore futures fall on slowing demand concerns

* Dalian iron ore slumps 3.9%, Singapore futures shed 2%

* Fresh anti-smog measures in China’s steelmaking hubs

* Coronavirus spreads faster outside China

By Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Iron ore futures in China and Singapore fell on Thursday on worries of weak demand for the steelmaking raw material as mills are expected to reduce steel output due to growing inventories and new environmental curbs.

Extending its losses into the third straight day, the Dalian Commodity Exchange’s most-traded iron ore contract, expiring in May, shed as much as 3.9% to 631 yuan ($89.98) a tonne, its lowest since Feb. 17.

Iron ore’s front-month March contract on the Singapore Exchange slumped as much as 2% to $84.17 a tonne.

Though many workers in China have returned to factories and construction sites after weeks of shutdowns and as travel curbs aimed at containing a coronavirus outbreak have eased, the situation is not expected to normalise anytime soon.

Amid record-high inventories that have piled up because of weak demand, steel mills are reluctant to produce more, hitting demand for iron ore.

“Downstream (commercial steel) demand is weak. The question is how long Chinese steel mills will be willing to maintain production,” said Daniel Hynes, ANZ’s senior commodity strategist, in a note.

“With the promise of infrastructure stimulus measures, they are likely to keep producing for the moment. If there is no rebound in industrial activity by the end of the quarter, we suspect lower steel production and thus iron ore demand will be hit.”

To counter a hit from the coronavirus epidemic, China’s central bank has reduced interest rates and flushed the market with liquidity and investors expect a further stimulus from Beijing to support the domestic economy.

Steel mills also face fresh anti-smog sintering restrictions, such as those in steelmaking hubs of Tangshan and Handan in the northern province of Hebei, based on reports from some industry websites.

FUNDAMENTALS

* Fresh coronavirus infections elsewhere have surpassed the number of new cases in China, where the disease originated and has killed more than 2,700 people and sickened about 80,000.

* A ship heading to China and carrying 275,000 tonnes of iron ore from Brazilian miner Vale SA was damaged.

* The China Iron and Steel Industry Association expects steel demand in the first quarter to have fallen sharply, but it anticipates a “rapid” pick-up in the second quarter spurred by a raft of government policy support measures.

* Construction steel rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange ended the morning session down 1.2%, hot-rolled coil slipped 0.9% and stainless steel shed 0.7%.

* Coking coal lost 0.5% and coke slid 2%.

($1 = 7.0128 yuan)

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; additional reporting by Min Zhang in Beijing; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel

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