(Bloomberg) -- The global iron ore market is awash with supply and prices remain volatile, but a former Chinese limousine rental service and a billionaire New Zealand family are among producers and developers wagering new mines will be needed.
Their focus is Western Australia, the industry heartland in the world’s top exporting nation, where there’s about A$10.5 billion ($7.9 billion) of possible or planned developments and a further A$1.9 billion committed to or under construction, according to state government data.
Prices have steadied after three straight annual declines, advancing about 28 percent this year on improved steel demand in China, supported by construction and infrastructure spending, and as domestic output wanes, boosting imports. A surplus in the seaborne market will peak in 2017, with a deficit emerging by 2019 even as major projects including billionaire Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill deliver new supply, according to RBC Capital Markets.
“We missed the boom, when a lot of people made money -- but we also missed the collapse,” said Hendrianto Tee, business development director for Brockman Mining Ltd., which is targeting shipments in early 2018 from a planned 2.5 million metric ton-a-year mine. “We’ve kept working on it, and with some opportunities coming up, we’re taking advantage of that to move into production.”
Hong Kong-based Brockman, which sold its limousine hire and airport transfer unit in 2013, joins a range of companies planning or studying projects or restarts in Australia, including BC Iron Ltd., Mount Gibson Iron Ltd. and Iron Road Ltd. New Zealand’s Todd Corp. last month took control of Flinders Mines Ltd., which has a planned project in Western Australia with an estimated initial cost of A$800.
Brockman, which changed its name from Wah Nam International Holdings Ltd. in 2012 after acquiring an Australian iron ore producer, this year won a court ruling to secure potential access to a Pilbara railroad and in March signed an agreement for logistics services with Sydney-based Qube Holdings Ltd.
The iron ore developer is in talks over funding options for its proposed A$60 million Maverick project and negotiating access to Port Hedland’s Utah Point, Tee said. Construction may begin in the first quarter of 2017. Brockman insists Chinese domestic iron ore production will continue to decline, boosting the prospects for exporters.
Brockman is targeting free-on-board costs of $35 a ton for Maverick, hoping to reap savings from lower contractor rates after commodities cratered to a 25-year low in January. The developer is also now able to use an existing road network to transport its ore, according to Tee. “At the current price, it’s a very good margin,” he said.
Benchmark iron ore rose 0.8 percent on Thursday to $56.34 a ton, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd. data.
New Zealand’s billionaire Todd family, which has interests ranging from energy retailing to property, is studying development of the proposed A$2.8 billion Balla Balla infrastructure project, which could be integrated with Flinders’ potential 25 million tons-a-year mine, according to filings.
Todd sees the central Pilbara region as an attractive source of supply “if and when the conditions in the iron ore market recover and stabilize” to make its port, conveyor and rail project feasible, it said in a March exchange filing. The company declined to comment further on its plans.
With iron ore trading more than 70 percent lower than its 2011 peak, others have instead chosen to mothball plans for new operations. China’s Baosteel Group Corp., the nation’s second-largest steelmaker, and partners in December halted a proposed A$6.8 billion iron ore project in Australia.
“The idea of new developments was totally quiet in the first half, until things started taking off and people got a feeling that the price might hold up for longer,” Tony Hespe, Sydney-based iron ore industry director at researcher AME Group, said by phone. Small-sized developers need to remain wary, as the largest exporters could quickly raise low-cost supply to squeeze out new entrants, he said.