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3 Stocks to Keep an Eye on Despite Iron Ore Prices Losing Steam

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Iron ore prices have been on a downward spiral lately, due to China’s efforts to cut steel production and expectations of a pick-up in global iron ore supply.

Future prices for iron ore with 62% iron content, hit a nine-month low of $140.54 a ton on Sep 2. It eventually recovered to settle at $144.83 a ton on Sep 3. Iron ore prices are currently 34% below the high of $219.77 in July. Year to date, iron ore prices have declined 12%, which is in stark contrast to the rally of 70% witnessed last year. Robust demand in China stemming from the government’s measures to stimulate the economy from the COVID-19 slump amid concerns of supply shortage from Brazil had worked in favor of iron ore prices last year.

The tables seem to have turned this year, as China’s intensified focus on cutting down emissions has dealt a blow to the steel industry, which given its high energy consumption and outdated technology and equipment is one of the biggest contributors to pollution in the country. China is, thus, working toward reducing its crude steel output in 2021 from a year earlier. The China Iron and Steel Association (“CISA”) announced that in late August, the average aggregate daily crude steel output of large and medium sized steel enterprises in China was down 4% compared to mid-August, which highlights the impact of the implementation of production restrictions at steel mills.

Meanwhile, the Caixin China General Manufacturing PMI contracted for the first time since April to 49.2 in August 2021. It came below 50.3 in July and missed market estimates of 50.2. This was primarily due to measures to curb rising cases of the Delta strain, supply chain bottlenecks, and raw material cost inflation. Output shrank for the first time in 17 months and new orders declined at the steepest rate in 16 months. Exports sales contracted for the first time since February. Consequently, the lower demand in China and output recovery in Brazil have been weighing on iron ore prices.

Demand for Iron Ore to Remain Resilient

The World Steel Association projects steel demand to grow 5.8% in 2021 and reach 1,874 million. In 2022, steel demand is expected to go up 2.7% to reach 1,924.6 Mt. In China, steel demand is expected to grow 3.0% in 2021 but will decline 1% in 2022 due to the intensified environmental push. Meanwhile, steel demand will go up 8.2% and 4.2% in 2021 and 2022, respectively, in advanced economies. The ongoing recovery in automotive and construction sectors worldwide will drive demand for steel. In the United States, massive government spending to rebuild infrastructure including railroads, highways and bridges will significantly boost steel demand, thus raising the requirement of more iron ore.

3 Stocks to Keep an Eye on

We recommend these iron mining stocks that are well-poised to capitalize on the increase in demand for iron ore. These stocks have a Zacks Rank 3 (Hold) and a VGM Score of A. Our research shows that stocks with such a combination offer the best investment opportunities. They also have solid earnings growth projections.

You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Zacks Investment Research
Zacks Investment Research


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BHP Group BHP: In fiscal 2022, the company expects to produce between 249 Mt and 259 Mt of iron ore backed by productivity improvements at Western Australia Iron Ore operations. Efforts to make operations more efficient through smart technology adoption across the entire value chain will aid in reducing costs, thereby bolstering its margins. Its focus on lowering debt is commendable. The company’s exit of the petroleum business, investment in growth projects and decision to unify its dual-listed structure will aid growth as well. These factors have resulted in a share price appreciation of 18.8% over the past year. .

The company has a long-term estimated earnings growth rate of 4%. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for current fiscal earnings indicates year-over-year improvement of 37.8%. The consensus estimate has moved up 6% over the past 90 days.

Rio Tinto plc RIO: The company expects to produce at the low end of its range of 325 Mt to 340 Mt of iron ore in fiscal 2021. It boasts a world-class portfolio of high-quality assets and continues to strengthen it by increasing investment in high-value projects to ensure long-term growth. Rio Tinto is strengthening the portfolio further with its commitment to fund the high-quality Jadar lithium project, which signals its entry into the fast-growing battery materials market. The company remains focused on making its operations as efficient as possible through the use of technology and innovation, including automation. A strong balance sheet and a disciplined capital allocation support its ability to sustain production and increase investment in development projects (in high-return iron ore and copper), while delivering superior returns to shareholders. All of these factors have contributed to its share price gain of 24.6% in a year’s time.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for fiscal 2021 earnings indicates year-over-year improvement of around 104%. The consensus mark has been revised upward by 5% over the past 90 days. The company has a long-term estimated growth rate of 3%.

Vale S.A VALE: The Brazilian miner expects to produce between 315 Mt and 335 Mt of iron ore in 2021. Backed by solid cash flow, Vale continues to lower debt and strengthen its balance sheet. The company also continues to invest in growth projects that will help it achieve annual iron ore production capacity of 450 Mt in the future. Vale is working toward transforming its base metals business, and believes it will attain 500 ktpy (kilo tons per year) with projects already in pipeline. Its ongoing efforts to improve productivity, introduce more high-quality ore in the market and control costs have been impressive, leading to a 72.8% surge in its share price over the past year. The company is also investing in its autonomous program in a bid to ensure safety in mining, reduce carbon footprint, improve efficiency and lower costs.

The company has a long-term estimated earnings growth rate of 30.7%. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for fiscal 2021 earnings suggests year-over-year growth of around 170%. The consensus mark has moved north by 6% over the past 60 days. The company delivered a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 14.3%, on average.


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