MARKETS SPECTATOR: Goldman delivers an iron fist

Mid-tier iron ore producers have had their earnings forecasts slashed by Goldman Sachs after the investment bank reigned in its price outlook for the resource.

Goldman Sachs recently lowered its iron ore price forecasts for calendar years 2013-15 as it sees a period of oversupply arriving sooner than initially predicted. For each year, it cut its forecasts by 3 per cent, 11 per cent, and 9 per cent to $US139 per tonne, $US115/t, and $US80/t, respectively. 

The key drivers of this downgrade were:

1) The increasing scrap usage within China. 

2) Chinese iron ore production to surprise on the upside. 

3) Lower total steel production.

This results in a market surplus from 2014 onwards, which Goldman believes will weigh on prices and, in particular, the mid-cap iron ore miners.

Consequently, it has downgraded the earnings for mid-tier producers given they operate at much tighter margins than the big producers; and as such the iron ore price downgrades have had a much bigger impact on future earnings.

“We have downgraded fiscal years 2013, 2014 and 2015 by -16 per cent, -33 per cent and -145 per cent for Atlas Iron, and -5 per cent, -12 per cent and -114 per cent for Mount Gibson Iron Ore," the broker said in a note to clients. "While the mid-term outlook (fiscal years 2015-16) appears particularly grim based on a straight pass through of these new commodity forecasts, we highlight that these companies, one, are highly sensitive to small commodity and currency changes, and outcomes could be vastly different from those forecast; two, are cash flow positive at our long term forecasts and at present have sufficient liquidity to withstand sustained dips in pricing; and three, are likely to take more decisive action if such dips occur."

Nonetheless, the above downgrades have not had an effect on the stocks’ neutral ratings as the broker believes current prices appropriately reflect the near term earnings. However, target prices have been ratcheted down by 23 per cent to $1.15 for Atlas Iron and 14 per cent to $0.60 for Mount Gibson Iron Ore.