The share prices of iron ore miners were hammered on Thursday in the wake of a renewed slide in iron ore prices and wariness about the near-term outlook for Chinese steel output.
Investor sentiment towards iron ore miners was also wary, thanks to concerns about the change of economic gears in China, shifting away from over-reliance on exports to focusing more on domestic demand.
The spot iron ore price is trading at about $US120 ($125) a tonne, the lowest seen since last October, but still holding well above 2012 lows of below $US90 a tonne.
Among the big iron ore miners, Fortescue shares fell 18¢ to close at $3.35, its lowest since last September, when the iron ore price was in retreat. Atlas was down 5¢ at 77¢, Rio shed 74¢ to $53.96 and BHP lost 41¢ to $34.46.
China's iron ore stockpiles are estimated at 75 million tonnes, significantly below the level of August last year, about 100 million tonnes, which may prevent the iron ore price from falling harder in the second half of the year.
The decline in the iron ore price is potentially good news for local steel producers such as BlueScope Steel, which is working as well to limit the impact of high iron ore prices on earnings.
BlueScope is ramping up export volumes of iron sands, for example, to help offset overly strong iron ore prices on its bottom line. It is doubling iron sands exports to 1.7 million tonnes, which coupled with using some of the product at its Port Kembla steelworks, will help to lift overall iron ore sales to 2.7 million tonnes annually.
The company operates its own iron sands mine in New Zealand, with part of the output used at its local steelworks. The boost to exports will give BlueScope a 55 per cent "hedge" against iron ore prices, it said.
Additionally, BlueScope is still boosting exports of coke, following the closure of one of the two blast furnaces at Port Kembla, which has left it with surplus production capacity. It now devotes one of its coke ovens solely to service export markets.
From coke export volumes of 172,000 tonnes in fiscal 2011, this rose to 516,000 tonnes in the next financial year, in the wake of the closure of one of the two blast furnaces at Port Kembla.
It rose further, to 360,000 tonnes in the December half alone, which has lifted it to an annualised rate of 720,000 tonnes.
To help boost coke exports further, it has reconfigured some of its port capacity.
BlueScope is believed to be selling a large part of its coke to international trader Noble Corp.