Global steel production in the fourth quarter increased by 3.5 percent year-over-year. Most of this production growth came from China and North America. With global steel demand expected to increase further in 2013, steel mills have begun to replenish depleted inventories of metallurgical coal and iron ore, which has provided further support to prices. Chinese iron ore stockpiles were in the range of 90 to 100 million tonnes for most of 2012, but by the end of January they were reduced significantly to 68 million tonnes. After reaching lows near $80 per dry metric ton range in September, seaborne iron ore prices have rebounded nearly 83 percent and remained near $150 per dry metric ton for the last two months.
Metallurgical coal is following a similar path, with expected additional demand in 2013 due to increased global steel production. After reaching lows in September of $140 per metric ton, metallurgical coal prices have increased 21 percent to reach $170 per metric ton. Metallurgical coal prices are expected to continue moving up as demand improves through 2013.
Global copper markets remain strongly positioned with improving demand expected from the global economic outlook. Refined copper was in supply deficit by approximately 250,000 tonnes for the year 2012. In 2013, completion of several mine expansions should increase mine supply, reducing the deficit. However, production disruptions due to labor strife, weather or geology are normal, and production targets have seldom been met. In addition, most of the projected production increases in 2013 are expected to come from high risk areas, such as central Africa, increasing the likelihood of supply shortfall. Demand could also surprise to the upside with continued improvement in the China economy.
The Company believes that the increasing number of key indicators that are turning positive will begin to increase commodity demand and provide support for prices. Although timing is uncertain, this will lead to additional approvals for mine expansions.