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Iron Ore’s Slump Likely to Deepen Until China’s Economy Revives

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(Bloomberg) — Iron ore is one the poorest performing commodities this year, and the rout in prices is only likely to deepen until China’s economy stages a revival.

Futures in Singapore have fallen for seven straight months, the worst run since the contract debuted in 2013. At around $81 a ton, the mineral costs about a third of its peak in May last year.

China is by far the biggest buyer of iron ore, mainly from Australia and Brazil, to feed annual steel production that has topped 1 billion tons in the last two years. As such, it’s one of the defining raw materials of China’s economy, and a stalwart of a commodities boom that risks becoming a distant memory as the property market teeters and Beijing persists with its growth-crippling virus controls.

Hopes that conditions would improve in the autumn, the peak season for Chinese construction activity, were dashed by the end of the Communist Party Congress in October. The twice-a-decade meeting failed to deliver large-scale support for the real-estate sector, and didn’t chart a path out of the thicket of Covid Zero rules that have hobbled demand across commodities and disrupted operations from malls to factories and building sites.

“There is probably more downside ahead, as there is no clarity yet around the end of Covid lockdowns and no clear outline of economic measures to boost China’s economy,” said Gavin Wendt, founding director of Sydney-based MineLife Pty. That means tough times and margin pressures at steel mills are likely to continue, he said.

China’s steel industry has been warning of a crisis since the summer, and the third quarter saw major mills turn in their first aggregate loss since at least 2018, when Bloomberg began compiling data. They’ve tempered their purchases of iron ore in response.

Slowing global growth leaves little opportunity for steel mills to export their way out of trouble. Anti-pollution curbs on operations over the winter, and a government cap on annual steel output to limit carbon emissions, complete a bleak picture for demand over the next few months.

UBS AG estimates that daily steel production in China will fall by about 5% this quarter versus the September rate if the authorities enforce their target of lower annual production in 2022.

China’s property market accounts for 39% of its steel consumption, according to Gavekal Dragonomics. That sector has been in steep decline for over a year after Beijing stepped in to deflate what it feared was a bubble.

The situation isn’t getting any better, with sales at the top 100 developers plunging 28% last month. While government infrastructure spending to support the economy has offset some of the losses for steelmakers, the industry remains mired in contraction along with China’s broader manufacturing base, according to the latest survey of purchasing managers.

Iron ore’s steep drop contrasts with other metals used in construction, like copper and aluminum, which benefit from additional demand keyed to the energy transition away from fossil fuels. They’re also prone to supply squeezes. Copper has suffered from a lag in mining investment, while power shortages caused by heatwaves and the war in Ukraine have propped up aluminum.

Iron ore is a case apart. The big miners have been tremendously successful in lopping off costs in recent years and are under no great pressure to stem supply. Rio Tinto Group’s cost of production in the Pilbara, for example, is about $20 a ton, and its laser-like focus on efficiency meant it was still able to make money when iron ore futures hit a record low of $36 a ton in 2015.

Without any major reversals in Chinese policy, the expectation is that prices are likely to weaken from here. The latest forecasts from Citigroup Inc. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. call for a drop to $70 a ton in three months.

Iron ore declined 0.3% to $80.30 a ton in Singapore as of 10:19 a.m. local time. Copper slipped 0.1% to $7,616 a ton on the London Metal Exchange, down for the fifth time in six sessions after the Federal Reserve’s hint it will raise rates higher-than-expected in coming months sapped risk appetite. Aluminum rose 0.8% to $2,268 a ton to be up for a fourth day.

Unverified social media posts earlier this week that suggested the government will assess how to exit Covid Zero have helped rally prices a little. Still, many remain skeptical that President Xi Jinping’s signature policy can easily be rolled back in just a few months, and if anything the excitement indicates a market that hinges almost entirely on what’s next from Beijing.

–With assistance from Winnie Zhu.

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Here is Trump economy: Slower growth, higher prices and a bigger national debt

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If Donald Trump is re-elected president of the United States in November, Americans can expect higher inflation, slower economic growth and a larger national debt, according to economists.

Trump’s economic agenda for a second term in office includes raising tariffs on imports, cutting taxes and deporting millions of undocumented migrants.

“Inflation will be the main impact” of a second Trump presidency, Bernard Yaros, lead US economist at Oxford Economics, told Al Jazeera.

“That’s ultimately the biggest risk. If Trump is president, tariffs are going up for sure. The question is how high do they go and how widespread are they,” Yaros said.

Trump has proposed imposing a 10 percent across-the-board tariff on all imported goods and levies of 60 percent or higher on Chinese imports.

During Trump’s first term in office from 2017 to 2021, his administration introduced tariff increases that at their peak affected about 10 percent of imports, mostly goods from China, Moody’s Analytics said in a report released in June.

Those levies nonetheless inflicted “measurable economic damage”, particularly to the agriculture, manufacturing and transportation sectors, according to the report.

“A tariff increase covering nearly all goods imports, as Trump recently proposed, goes far beyond any previous action,” Moody’s Analytics said in its report.

Businesses typically pass higher tariffs on to their customers, raising prices for consumers. They could also affect businesses’ decisions about how and where to invest.

“There are three main tenets of Trump’s campaign, and they all point in the same inflationary direction,” Matt Colyar, assistant director at Moody’s Analytics, told Al Jazeera.

“We didn’t even think of including retaliatory tariffs in our modelling because who knows how widespread and what form the tit-for-tat model could involve,” Colyar added.

‘Recession becomes a serious threat’

When the US opened its borders after the COVID-19 pandemic, the inflow of immigrants helped to ease labour shortages in a range of industries such as construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality.

The recovery of the labour market in turn helped to bring down inflation from its mid-2022 peak of 9.1 percent.

Trump has not only proposed the mass deportation of 15 million to 20 million undocumented migrants but also restricting the inflow of visa-holding migrant workers too.

That, along with a wave of retiring Baby Boomers – an estimated 10,000 of whom are exiting the workforce every day – would put pressure on wages as it did during the pandemic, a trend that only recently started to ease.

“We can assume he will throw enough sand into the gears of the immigration process so you have meaningfully less immigration, which is inflationary,” Yaros said.

Since labour costs and inflation are two important measures that the US Federal Reserve weighs when setting its benchmark interest rate, the central bank could announce further rate hikes, or at least wait longer to cut rates.

That would make recession a “serious threat once again”, according to Moody’s.

Adding to those inflationary concerns are Trump’s proposals to extend his 2017 tax cuts and further lower the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 20 percent.

While Trump’s proposed tariff hikes would offset some lost revenue, they would not make up the shortfall entirely.

According to Moody’s, the US government would generate $1.7 trillion in revenue from Trump’s tariffs while his tax cuts would cost $3.4 trillion.

Yaros said government spending is also likely to rise as Republicans seek bigger defence budgets and Democrats push for greater social expenditures, further stoking inflation.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, economists expect no philosophical change in his approach to import taxes. They think he will continue to use targeted tariff increases, much like the recently announced 100 percent tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles and solar panels, to help US companies compete with government-supported Chinese firms.

With Trump’s tax cuts set to expire in 2025, a second Biden term would see some of those cuts extended, but not all, Colyar said. Primarily, the tax cuts to higher earners like those making more than $400,000 a year would expire.

Although Biden has said he would hike corporate taxes from 21 percent to 28 percent, given the divided Congress, it is unlikely he would be able to push that through.

The contrasting economic visions of the two presidential candidates have created unwelcome uncertainty for businesses, Colyar said.

“Firms and investors are having a hard time staying on top of [their plans] given the two different ways the US elections could go,” Colyar said.

“In my entire tenure, geopolitical risk has never been such an important consideration as it is today,” he added.

 

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China Stainless Steel Mogul Fights to Avoid a Second Collapse

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Chinese metal tycoon Dai Guofang’s first steel empire was brought down by a government campaign to rein in market exuberance, tax evasion accusations and a spell behind bars. Two decades on, he’s once again fighting for survival.

A one-time scrap-metal collector, he built and rebuilt a fortune as China boomed. Now with the economy cooling, Dai faces a debt crisis that threatens the future of one of the world’s top stainless steel producers, Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co., along with plants held by his wife and son. Its demise would send ripples through the country’s vast manufacturing sector and the embattled global nickel market.

 

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Why Trump’s re-election could hit Europe’s economy by at least €150 billion

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A Trump victory could trigger a 1% GDP hit to the eurozone economy, with Germany, Italy, and Finland most affected. Renewed NATO demands and potential cessation of US aid to Ukraine could further strain Europe.

The potential re-election of Donald Trump as US President poses a significant threat to the eurozone economy, with economists warning of a possible €150 billion hit, equivalent to about 1% of the region’s gross domestic product. This impact stems from anticipated negative trade repercussions and increased defence expenditures.

The recent attack in Butler, Pennsylvania, where former President Trump sustained an ear injury, has boosted his re-election odds. Prediction markets now place Trump’s chances of winning at 71%, a significant rise from earlier figures, while his opponent, Joe Biden, has experienced a sharp decline, with his chances dropping to 18% from a peak of 45% just two months ago.

Rising trade uncertainty and economic impact from tariffs

Economists James Moberly and Sven Jari Stehn from Goldman Sachs have raised alarms over the looming uncertainty in global trade policies, drawing parallels to the volatility experienced in 2018 and 2019. They argue that Trump’s aggressive trade stance could reignite these uncertainties.

“Trump has pledged to impose an across-the-board 10% tariff on all US imports including from Europe,” Goldman Sachs outlined in a recent note.

The economists predict that the surge in trade policy uncertainty, which previously reduced Euro area industrial production by 2% in 2018-19, could now result in a 1% decline in Euro area gross domestic product.

Germany to bear the brunt, followed by Italy

Germany, Europe’s industrial powerhouse, is expected to bear the brunt of this impact.

“We estimate that the negative effects of trade policy uncertainty are larger in Germany than elsewhere in the Euro area, reflecting its greater openness and reliance on industrial activity,” Goldman Sachs explained.

The report highlighted that Germany’s industrial sector is more vulnerable to trade disruptions compared to other major Eurozone economies such as France.

After Germany, Italy and Finland are projected to be the second and third most affected countries respectively, due to the relatively higher weight of manufacturing activity in their economies.

According to a Eurostat study published in February 2024, Germany (€157.7 billion), Italy (€67.3 billion), and Ireland (€51.6 billion) were the three largest European Union exporters to the United States in 2023.

Germany also maintained the largest trade surplus (€85.8 billion), followed by Italy (€42.1 billion).

Defence, security pressures and financial condition shifts

A Trump victory would also be likely to bring renewed defence and security pressures to Europe. Trump has consistently pushed for NATO members to meet their 2% GDP defence spending commitments. Currently, EU members spend about 1.75% of GDP on defence, necessitating an increase of 0.25% to meet the target.

Moreover, Trump has indicated that he might cease US military aid to Ukraine, compelling European nations to step in. The US currently allocates approximately €40bn annually (or 0.25% of EU GDP) for Ukrainian support. Consequently, meeting NATO’s 2% GDP defence spending requirement and offsetting the potential reduction in US military aid could cost the EU an additional 0.5% of GDP per year.

Additional economic shocks from Trump’s potential re-election include heightened US foreign demand due to tax cuts and the risk of tighter financial conditions driven by a stronger dollar.

However, Goldman Sachs believes that the benefits from a looser US fiscal policy would be marginal for the European economy, with by a mere 0.1% boost in economic activity.

“A Trump victory in the November election would likely come with significant financial market shifts,” Goldman Sachs wrote.

Reflecting on the aftermath of the 2016 election, long-term yields surged, equity prices soared, and the dollar appreciated significantly. Despite these movements, the Euro area Financial Conditions Index (FCI) only experienced a slight tightening, as a weaker euro counterbalanced higher interest rates and wider sovereign spreads.

In conclusion, Trump’s potential re-election could have far-reaching economic implications for Europe, exacerbating trade uncertainties and imposing new financial and defence burdens on the continent.

 

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