Iron ore's spectacular summer crash - from $145 a tonne in April to $87 in September - sent shockwaves through the mining world and tore shares of heavily exposed junior iron ore producers to shreds. But while spot iron ore prices have since tracked back up to $125 a tonne, shares of junior producers have continued to fall. This suggests there might be scope for a substantial recovery in junior iron ore shares over the coming months - kick-started by an improving Chinese economy.
Shares of the four newest iron ore producers listed in London -
Risk-averse equity markets rightly punished the four stocks during the iron ore meltdown. But the shares failure to bounce back implies investors don't think the iron ore price increase will last. That, or previous buyers had their fingers burnt and don't want to re-enter the sector given the increased volatility.
Yet there could be another explanation. It has been widely reported in the press that shipping companies are growing concerned about higher than anticipated moisture content of iron ore from West Africa during the rainy season, making the transport of iron ore from countries such as Sierra Leone potentially unsafe. This is reportedly causing loading delays and could raise shipping costs for miners operating in the country, industry sources said. Analysts from broker SP Angel maintain this is more likely to impact African Minerals' less-treated DSO (direct shipping ore) product than London Mining's treated iron ore concentrates. African Minerals is ramping up a new wet processing plant at its main Tonkolili mine so it does not envisage such problems continuing in the future. In any event, the rainy season in Sierra Leone ended in October and won't start up again until May or June.
One company that has managed to avoid this summer's downward trend is
Usually we would expect shares of emerging miners to outperform the market as their derisked operations ramp up production and investors eye imminent cash flow. But the reality of new production in a weak pricing environment has made the market nervous, especially given the recent pressure on margins. And while there is undoubtedly plenty of risk remaining, there's compelling value, too, especially if the Chinese economy - the world's largest iron ore market - shifts up a gear in the new year. We rate the shares of African Minerals, Afferro Mining, London Mining and Bellzone as buys.