CANBERRA: An American iron ore miner says Australia is “manipulating” its currency in a bid to save its iron ore exporters, who are so desperate for cash they are putting even the kangaroos for sale.
In comments made on the same day the Reserve Bank of Australia cut interest rates to a historic low, Cliffs Natural Resources chief executive Lourenco Goncalves said Australia was making a “big mistake” by assuming low iron ore prices would force Chinese iron ore producers out of business, and that it would be the Australian and Brazilian producers who would be left “bleeding”. Cliffs operates iron ore and coal mines in North America but also has the fifth biggest iron ore export business in Australia.Its Australian iron ore business has less than five years of mine-life remaining, and the company plans to either sell the asset, or shut it when the current mine life expires.
Mr Goncalves said the situation had started to “smell bad” in Australia. “The Australians have very little do at this time beyond continuing to manipulating their currency. Despite that we are already seeing lay-offs and mines shutting down throughout the entire Australian iron ore mining landscape,” he said during a quarterly briefing in the United States on Tuesday.”The Australians are taking no prisoners with the Aussie dollar. “They want to help BHP, they want to help Rio Tinto, they want to help that lady over there, Gina whatever. “They are going to continue to help Fortescue Metals Group and they will believe that they will always crush Chinese producers. Big mistake, but it is what it is.”
Australian iron ore miners sell their product in US dollars but have most of their costs in Australian dollars, and so have benefited from the slide in the Australian dollar over the past year. The Reserve Bank of Australia has been saying for more than a year that it would like to see the currency lower, and on Tuesday cut official interest rates to 2.25 per cent.Cliffs is realigning its business to focus on selling iron ore to US steel producers rather than Chinese steel mills, and says it received $US99 per tonne for the product it sold to US mills in the December quarter. The average price for iron ore sold into China during the December quarter was $US74 per tonne.
Mr. Goncalves said iron ore miners outside the US won’t be able to compete with US miners for price when selling to US steel mills, and he tipped that Cliffs, which had to delay promises for dividend payments this week, would outlast the Australian and Brazilian miners. “The Australian and the Brazilians will be bleeding like crazy in the next couple of years; we are going to be standing tall. It is already stupid betting against America,” he said.At $US1 billion, Cliffs market capitalisation is more than 100 times smaller than Rio Tinto’s market capitalisation on the ASX. Rio also has a second, larger listing in London.