Cliffs CEO says big iron miners self destructing

March 12, 2015

Cliffs Natural Resources chief executive Lourenco Goncalves told the Global Iron Ore and Steel Forecast conference that Australia’s big iron ore miners are on a path towards “self destruction” and could find themselves with a case to answer in front of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Goncalves told the conference that the ongoing output growth by the likes of BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals Group and Brazil’s Vale was flawed, The Australian reported.

Noting the sharp decline in prices in the past 13 months, Goncalves argued that it was the result of a surge of iron ore supply from the majors and had wiped around $US50 billion of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) from the world’s biggest iron ore miners. That $US50 billion could have been used to buy and shutdown Australian producers such as Fortescue, he argued, allowing prices to remain higher.

“Because that was not done and the strategy was to drive prices down, Fortescue is still out there. They will have to keep these prices down forever, because even if everybody else in Australia goes broke, it doesn’t means that the assets won’t be bought by someone later and restarted,” Goncalves said.

“The only way to keep these things down is by keeping prices down forever. I respectfully disagree with the strategy.”

Since taking control of Cliffs through a board spill last year, Goncalves has set about exiting Cliffs from the seaborne iron ore business dominated by BHP, Rio and Vale and is instead concentrating on the domestic U.S. market.

Cliffs is trying to sell its Koolyanobbing iron ore mine in Western Australia, and has flagged the closure of the mine in four to five years should it fail to find a buyer.

Goncalves said the apparent strategy of the miners to drive out higher-cost producers in China and other nations could be “a difficult point if Australia had to defend that in the WTO.”

“We are not against fair trade. We are just against unfair trade. We are against muscling out companies, pushing countries out of industries,” he said.

“Imagine if it were Russia trying to drive Japanese businesses out of business. It would not be that cool. In a world that’s flat, you’ve got to do to others only what someone else would do to you.”
 

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