What is the largest iron-producing country? Australia took the top spot in 2017, but many other nations played a major role in production.
Iron ore prices have fared well this past year, and that has incentivized some mining companies to increase their presence in the space.
Prices for iron ore peaked at around US$70 per tonne in 2017, and hit a low of about $50. Unsurprisingly, Chinese demand was instrumental in pushing prices up during the period.
India’s mining ban in Goa is seen playing an integral role in iron ore output for the coming year, with all mining permits in the region having been revoked. The country, which produces a great deal of low-grade iron ore, is also likely to continue being hit by decreased demand from China.
The Asian nation has been cracking down on low-grade minerals to comply with environmental codes. This is creating an ideal market for large players like Australia and Brazil to fill the void.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to look at the 10 top iron-producing countries of 2017. Here’s an overview of those countries, with data provided by the US Geological Survey.
Usable ore: 880 MT; iron content: 545 MT
First on the list is Australia, the largest iron-producing country, whose usable iron ore output was 880 MT in 2017. That’s a higher number than was seen in 2016, and the increase was no doubt helped by Australia’s leading iron ore producer, BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BLT).
The company reported an increase in production of 4 percent to sit at 231 MT for the 2017 fiscal year. Its Jimblebar mine received a new primary crusher and boost in conveying capacity in the period.
Usable ore: 440 MT; iron content: 280 MT
The second-largest iron-producing country is Brazil, where usable iron ore production totaled 440 MT in 2017. Vale (NYSE:VALE) achieved record production again in 2017, with 366.5 million tonnes of iron ore produced. Moving forward, Vale plans to shift its focus from production in Minas Gerais to higher-grade deposits in the north of the country. The shift is an attempt to bring down costs.
Usable ore: 340 MT; iron content: 210 MT
China is the world’s largest consumer of iron ore, despite being only the third-largest iron-producing country last year. Its production decreased slightly, dropping from 348 MT in 2016 to 340 MT in 2017.
The country’s iron ore imports increased by roughly 5 percent compared with the previous year, reaching 1.08 billion tonnes. According to Market Realist, the increase was the result of capacity cuts.
Usable ore: 190 MT; iron content: 120 MT
Vedanta (LSE:VED) is a major iron ore producer in India, and has operations in Goa, Karnataka and Liberia. Its latest production year ended on March 31, 2018, and it reported 646,000 tonnes of pig iron production for the period. That represents a decrease, which the company claims was caused by “lower demand for low grade ore and mine closure pursuant to the Supreme Court judgement.” The judgment being referred to is the court’s decision to instruct mines located in Goa to cease production.
Usable ore: 100 MT; iron content: 60 MT
Russia comes in as the fifth-largest iron-producing country in the world. Iron ore production in Russia essentially plateaued last year; its mining and steel group, Metalloinvest, reported slightly lower output of the material compared to 2016. In total, it put out 40.3 million tons of iron ore, a decrease of 1 percent year-over-year. The company says the fall was due to a change in ore mixture.
6. South Africa
Usable ore: 68 MT; iron content: 39 MT
South Africa beat out Ukraine to become the sixth-largest iron-producing country in 2017. Kumba Iron Ore (JSE:KIO) is Africa’s largest iron ore producer. The company’s flagship mine, Sishen, accounts for approximately 69 percent of Kumba’s total iron ore output.
Last year, the company produced 45 MT of iron ore, representing an 8-percent increase, according to the company’s 2017 report.
Usable ore: 63 MT; iron content: 39 MT
In 2017, usable iron ore production in Ukraine was 63 MT, the same as the year prior. Black Iron (TSX:BKI) is a Canadian company exploring and developing its 100-percent-owned Shymanivske project in the country. After having nearly begun operating the mine in 2014, the company had to put the project on hold when Russia invaded Ukraine. Now that the conflict has cooled, Black Iron has completed a new prefeasibility study, and is making advances towards construction.
Usable ore: 47 MT; iron content: 29 MT
Coming in as the eighth-largest iron-producing country, Canada’s production totaled 47 MT of usable iron ore in 2017, the same as the previous year.
Champion Iron (TSX:CIA) is one company pursuing iron ore production in the country. It is focusing on developing iron ore resources in Quebec, and in 2016 it acquired the Bloom Lake mine. The completion of a feasibility study was announced in February 2017; it shows that the mine has the potential to be competitive in the global iron ore market.
9. United States
Usable ore: 46 MT; iron content: 29 MT
Iron ore production in the US increased slightly in 2017. According to the US Geological Survey, the country produced 1.8 percent of the world’s output. US production came from seven open-pit mines, including “a concentration and pelletizing plant, and two iron metallic plants, including one direct-reduced iron (DRI) plant and one hot-briquetted iron (HBI) plant, operated during the year to supply steelmaking raw materials.”
The US imported mainly from Canada, at 47 percent, and Brazil, at 39 percent. There was no recorded domestic stockpiling of iron ore.
Usable ore: 35 MT; iron content: 23 MT
Finishing as the 10th-largest iron-producing country is Iran. As the Financial Tribune notes, the country is highly dependent on China. In fact, of the 35 MT Iran produced last year, about 90 percent of that was exported to China. Iran is hoping to export between 20 and 25 million tons of steel by 2025.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Amanda Kay, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.