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Riding The Iron Ore Roller Coaster

Still, investors should be careful to keep these predictions in perspective. “There are new mines coming on, especially toward the end of the year, so we might see some weakness there,” Hsi Han Pin, global head of commodities research at Standard Chartered (LSE:STAN), said in a January 21 Bloomberg article. “But are we seeing iron ore prices trending downward, say, below $100? No, we are not.”

Despite its prediction of a rising surplus, Goldman continues to see stronger prices this year, with a forecast average of $144, up from its earlier prediction of $140, another Bloomberg article notes.

“Strong demand growth in China has induced the development of low-grade, high-cost operations that require relatively high prices in order to remain viable,” Goldman analyst Christian Lelong said in a January 18 article in The Australian. “As long as those mines remain in operation, we believe the seaborne price will be supported at a high level.”

Lelong also said that while oversupply is a concern, its impact likely won't be fully felt for another two years. Goldman currently expects iron ore prices to drift down to $126 in 2014, $90 in 2015 and $80 in 2016.

Majors remain undaunted

One major producer that continues to raise its production is Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO). On January 15, the company reported that it had produced 253 million MT of iron ore in 2012, up 4 percent from 2011. That included 239 million MT from Australia's Pilbara region, which accounts for 40 percent of annual global iron ore exports. In December, Rio said that it is on track to expand its production capacity in the area to 290 million MT by the end of this year and 360 million MT by 2015.

BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BLT), which also gets a significant amount of its production from the Pilbara, produced 81.9 million MT of iron ore in the second half of 2012, the miner said in a January 23 press release. That's up 2 percent from the last six months of 2011. The company forecasts a 5-percent production increase in its 2013 fiscal year, which ends June 30, to 183 million MT. BHP also said that it has completed port upgrades that will let it boost its capacity to 220 million MT, and the expansion of its Jimblebar mine, which is set to start up in March 2014, should push its output up to that level.

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