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本和韓國的鋼鐵企業與巴西礦業巨頭淡水河谷公司(Companhia Vale do Rio Doce)達成協議﹐同意將鐵礦石價格上調65%。這將推動大型礦業公司的利潤增長﹐不過各鋼鐵企業及其在世界各地的客戶卻要為此付出代價。
這也證實了必和必拓(BHP Billiton Ltd.)、力拓股份有限公司(Rio Tinto Plc)和淡水河谷等少數幾家大型礦業公司的市場地位在不斷增強。上述三家公司的鐵礦石供應量超過了全球鐵礦石出口總量的70%﹐而這些公司之間計劃進行的併購可能會進一步增強其在大宗商品市場上的影響力。
日本的新日本製鐵(Nippon Steel Corp.)和韓國的浦項綜合製鐵公司(Posco)週一表示﹐同意對4月1日起發貨的鐵礦石﹐以每噸78.9美元的價格支付淡水河谷﹐較去年上漲了 65%。日本的JFE Steel Corp.也同意將價格上調65%。淡水河谷在一份聲明中證實了價格的上漲﹐並表示2008年的價格反映出全球鐵礦石市場上供不應求的局面仍在繼續。分析人士預計﹐這些價格協議將成為2008年全球鐵礦石議價的基準﹐而包括中國鋼鐵企業在內的鋼鐵生產商將同意接受類似幅度、甚至更大幅度的漲價。
澳洲銀行(National Australia Bank)駐墨爾本的分析師杰拉德•伯格(Gerard Burg)說﹐毫無疑問這是一個賣方市場﹐考慮到近來流向中國的產量﹐日本鋼鐵公司可能會擔心自己必須不計代價地爭取供應商。
日本股市投資者為這樁交易歡呼雀躍﹐這或許是因為他們原來擔心的結果較之更糟。在東京證券交易所﹐新日本製鐵(Nippon Steel Corp.)的股票價格週一上漲3.2%﹐至575日圓（合5.33美元）。JFE Steel Corp.的母公司JFE Holdings Inc.上漲6.3%﹐至4,410日圓。
中國杭州鋼鐵集團(Hangzhou Steel Group)的區域營銷經理李濟（音）說﹐公司絕對會受到近期漲價的影響﹐因為公司超過90%的原料都來自海外。
Iron-Price Surge Hits Asian Firms
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Japanese and Korean steelmakers agreed to a 65% increase in the price of iron ore with Brazilian mining power Cia. Vale do Rio Doce, boosting the fortunes of big mining firms at the expense of steel producers and their customers world-wide.
The price increase, which analysts expect to be matched or even topped in deals with steelmakers in China and elsewhere in the weeks ahead, suggests that demand for raw materials like steel and iron ore is holding up well, despite fears of a U.S.-led global economic slowdown.
It also confirms the growing market power of a few big mining companies, including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto PLC and Vale. Together, those three companies supply more than 70% of the world's exported iron ore, and their efforts to consolidate could magnify their clout in commodity markets in the future.
BHP Billiton has made an unsolicited $140 billion bid for Rio Tinto, which analysts believe is driven by BHP's desire to lock up even more iron-ore supply. Vale, meanwhile, is pursuing a possible merger with Swiss miner Xstrata PLC.
That activity comes at a time of rising strategic importance for iron ore, demand for which has skyrocketed in recent years. As a basic ingredient in steel, it is needed to build the office towers, highways and factories that underpin Asia's industrialization, which is especially rapid in China.
Unlike pricing of other commodities, iron ore's price is hammered out in top-secret annual meetings between miners and their customers rather than on international exchanges. The meetings have grown unusually testy in recent years, as steelmakers reluctantly swallowed price increases of 9.5% in 2007, 19% in 2006 and 71.5% in 2005.
This year, most commodities analysts were initially expecting a price increase of about 30%. But iron-ore demand has continued to outpace supply, and more recently the market had started to expect an even more sizable jump.
Yesterday, Japan's Nippon Steel Corp. and Posco of South Korea said they agreed to pay Vale $78.90 per ton, or 65% more than last year, for iron ore to be shipped from April 1. JFE Steel Corp. of Japan also agreed to a 65% increase. 'The prices for 2008 reflect the continuing excess demand in the global iron ore market,' Vale said in a statement confirming the price agreements. Analysts expect those agreements to become the benchmark for all other negotiations world-wide to set prices for 2008 and that other producers -- including steelmakers in China -- will agree to a similar or even greater increase.
Rio Tinto released a statement yesterday saying negotiations on 2008 ore prices with its customers 'are continuing' and suggesting the company intends to hold out for a higher price than that reached in the Vale agreements. BHP declined to comment.
'There's no doubt it's a seller's market,' says Gerard Burg, an analyst at National Australia Bank in Melbourne. 'Given the volumes heading to China in recent times, there may be some concern among Japanese steelmakers that they just have to have access to supplies' no matter what the cost, he says.
Japanese stock market investors cheered the deal, perhaps because they feared the outcome could have been even worse. On the Tokyo stock exchange, Nippon Steel's share price rose 3.2% to 575 yen ($5.33) yesterday. JFE Holdings Inc., the parent company of JFE Steel Corp., rose 6.3% to 4,410 yen.
Rio Tinto indicated it intends to hold out in hopes of securing bigger payouts from its Asian customers. The company believes it warrants a higher price than Vale because its Australian mines are much closer to Asian customers like China and Japan, resulting in lower shipping costs compared with ore shipped from Brazil.
On Sunday, Xu Lejiang, chairman of Baosteel Group Co., China's largest steelmaker, suggested to attendees at an industry conference in Beijing that China would aim to follow the prices set by the Japanese negotiators, according to a person briefed on his remarks. In the past, Baosteel has represented the Chinese steel industry in iron-ore talks with suppliers. A Baosteel spokeswoman declined to comment.
Steelmakers will no doubt try to pass the latest price increases to their customers, making life more difficult for manufacturers globally. Posco had already raised the price of hot-rolled coil steel 11.5% to $607 a ton in January, and other steelmakers have increased prices in recent months.
Li Ji, a regional marketing manager for Hangzhou Steel Group of China, said his company 'would be definitely affected' by the latest price increases as more than 90% of its raw material comes from overseas.
'This will bring serious cost pressure to our factory, probably resulting in an increase of 20% to 30% to selling price of our product,' Mr. Li said. 'Since our factory has no room to reduce costs, the only thing we can do is transfer the price hike to customers. I expect steel prices to be going up sharply this year.'
Whether such price increases can be sustained will depend on whether the global economy hangs together in the face of slowing U.S. growth.
Some analysts believe 2008 could wind up being a high-water mark for iron-ore prices. BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are adding new capacity, and other, smaller companies have raised huge sums of money to launch competing mines. (Please see related article on Page 17)
In a recent research report, Australian stockbroking and financial-services firm Ord Minnett said there could be as many as one billion metric tons of new supply a year under development by listed Australian companies. But the broker warned it could be 2015 before much of that new supply comes online, and added that some of the ventures could fall through.
Patrick Barta / Sebastian Moffett