Spot iron ore prices are showing no signs of easing. The rise in prices, triggered by a supply bottleneck, may continue for some time
Iron ore spot prices are unlikely to ease anytime soon. Prices have touched a high of $192 per tonne, moving closer to the all-time high of $200 per tonne reached in 2008. According to the Metal Bulletin, spot iron prices traded at a high of $192 per tonne on 22 April 2010.
Iron ore prices have moved up significantly in the past few months from $115 per tonne in December 2009 to the current $192 per tonne. Stalled mining activities in India and Australia are believed to be a major contributor to the rise in spot prices.
As supply bottlenecks in the Indian ore market stand unresolved, there are no signs of softening in spot prices. With this supply deficit, what used to be a buyer’s market has now turned into a seller’s market. India is a major contributor to the global iron ore spot market. Indian exports alone contribute around 80 million tonnes (MT) to the total 120MT traded in the spot market globally. However, during the period of January 2010- March 2010, Indian exports have declined due to issues involving mines in the country.
The closure of the Oballapuram mines has severely affected Indian iron ore output. In addition, mining activities have been disrupted due to government action against illegal mining, along with environmental concerns.
On the other hand, supply from Australian mines is also believed to have declined. When ore prices fell to $60 per tonne in late 2008, a number of mines in Australia were believed to have been closed. This supply shortage issue coupled with a marginal demand of 4% globally has turned the tables, turning a buyer’s market into a seller’s market.
With spot prices shooting up, long-term prices are also likely to witness a similar trend. The increase in spot prices is expected to have a direct effect on quarterly contracts. The global iron ore market is controlled by a handful of producers such as CVRD of Brazil and the Anglo-Australian companies Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
The major buyers are Chinese companies. Big miners are now insisting on quarterly contracts against the earlier yearly iron ore supply contracts.
Most steel companies have agreed to this model, except for Chinese companies. However, China’s stance is not expected to change the demand-supply dynamics significantly. According to industry sources, a further increase of 10%-20% in iron ore prices is likely. If the prices were to rise beyond this point, it might place buyers in a tight position, leading to a situation similar to the one witnessed in 2008.
The government has said that it will look into the accounts of some companies on the basis of an early warning system it had previously developed, to detect possible corporate frauds
The government today said that it has asked the Registrar of Companies (RoC) to look into accounts of some companies on the basis of alerts put out by an early warning system (EWS), which has been installed to check corporate frauds.
The ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) in September had developed the EWS to detect corporate frauds. The software-based fraud detecting system scans firms based on 10 financial parameters set by the ministry.
“To start with, certain companies have been identified. The RoC has been advised to carry out technical scrutiny of documents filed by these companies to check any irregularity,” corporate affairs minister Salman Khurshid informed Parliament today.
The ministry is also looking at fine-tuning the new Companies Bill, which is pending in Parliament, to firmly deal with financial frauds, he said.
“Identification of companies through the EWS is a continuous process. This system is applicable to all types of companies,” Mr Khurshid said.
On the effectiveness of the system to prevent a Satyam-like fraud which went on undetected for years, Mr Khurshid had earlier said, “Essentially, I put it like a medical test—lipid profile test to tell if your lipid profile is going wrong so that we step in immediately.”
The objective of the EWS would be to develop a permanent system for scanning everybody, he said.
In a related development, the government today said that it is not possible to quantify the amount involved in the Satyam fraud, which came to light in January 2009, till the completion of the CBI inquiry.
“As the investigation by CBI is still in progress, it is not possible to quantify the amount involved in the scam,” Mr Khurshid told the Lok Sabha in a written reply.
“The investigation of the Satyam scam by CBI with regard to diversion of funds from the company is still in progress,” the minister added.
While the SEBI-IRDA battle over ULIPs is still raging, the bank has emailed its high networth customers a twisted interpretation of an erroneous Times of India report asserting that the ULIP issue is now resolved in favour of IRDA
Even before any hearing has started over whether the capital market regulator or the insurance regulator would regulate unit-linked insurance plans (ULIPs), HDFC Bank has decided that the issue has already been resolved and that all is well with ULIPs.
An HDFC Bank official has shot off an email to high networth clients (serviced under the brand name ‘Imperia’) which quotes a Times of India report saying that “Life insurance companies can do business in equity and bond-linked products, such as unit-linked insurance policies (ULIPs), as per rules laid out by the insurance regulator IRDA, government clarified in Parliament on Tuesday.” HDFC Bank has interpreted this news report as meaning “The statement will put the controversy between SEBI and IRDA on the issue of which agency would regulate the unit-linked products of insurance companies, at rest.”
HDFC Bank’s motivation is understandable. The recent spat between the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) and market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) over who would regulate ULIPs has affected the business of large private banks with a nationwide distribution network because they are among the most aggressive sellers of ULIPs.
But the issue is far from settled. The finance minister suggested two weeks ago that the battle over ULIP regulation be fought out in a court between SEBI and IRDA. The court has not even starting hearing the arguments. Indeed, the Times report is quite wrong. The paper wrote: ‘In a written reply to Rajya Sabha, minister of state for finance, Namo Narain Meena said, "The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority has reported that every life insurance company registered under the IRDA Regulations, 2000, can transact life insurance business, which includes unit-linked business."
Moneylife has a copy of the unstarred question and answer about ULIPs in the Rajya Sabha. This is how it went:
Unstarred Question No. 2618
Launching of Unit linked insurance policies
2618. SHRIMATI BRINDA KARAT
Will the minister of finance be pleased to state:
(a) Whether Government has any information regarding launching of unit linked (Stock market linked ) insurance policies by the private insurance companies; and
(b) If so, the details thereof?
Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance
(Shri Namo Narain Meena)
(a) & (b): “The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) has reported that every life insurance company registered under the IRDA (Registration of Indian Insurance Companies) Regulations, 2000, can transact life insurance business which includes 'linked business'. After clearance from IRDA, the insurance companies must launch the products within three months from the date of clearance. The number of new products cleared by IRDA during the financial year 2009-10 in respect of private insurance companies was 236.”
Nowhere in the answer does the minister mention that ULIPs will be regulated by IRDA.
When contacted for clarification, finance ministry and SEBI sources told Moneylife that the claim made in the newspaper article was “completely shocking and preposterous.” After finance minister Pranab Mukherjee asked the two regulators to move court in order to expeditiously resolve the issue, SEBI and IRDA are likely to file a joint appeal before a High Court by 29 April 2010. An email query sent to HDFC Bank remained unanswered till the time of writing this article.