The ominous cloud hanging over the global iron ore sector has grown so dark that on the day that the 2015 SME Minnesota Conference kicked off in Duluth, MN some of the world's largest mining companies were placed on "credit watch negative" by Standard and Poors (S&P).
The price of iron ore slipped to a multi year low of $47.08/ton in April, down from nearly $200/t as recently as 2011. The global ratings agency said the credit watch change was because it lowered it price forecast to $45/t for the remainder of 2015, to $50/t for 2016 and $55/t for 2017.
The declining price has had a global impact with mining giants Anglo-American, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Vale, Fortescue Metals, Eurasin, Exxaro and CAP all landing the credit list to be watched.
Hitting close to home for conference attendees was news that United States Steel Corp. would idle its Keetac plant in Keewatin, MN. This came after news that Magnetation idled its concentrator.
Despite the cycle of bad news for the industry and the region, or perhaps in spite of it, more than 900 people showed up for the conference at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
"SME is pleased with the support of our vendors and members at this years conference and trade show in the face of the challenging economic conditions facing the domestic mining industry," Adam Sersha, SME Minnesota Section chair told Mining Engineering.
The conference, kicked off with a Plenary session with talks from Sesha, 2015 SME president J. Steven Gardner and Don Fosnacht of the Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota-Duluth (NRRI) who spoke about the state of the industry and the factors affecting it. In addition the slowing demand from China and the glut of supply, Fosnacht spoke about how things such as increased fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, material substitution, imported steel, electric arch furnaces and the decommissioning of older blast furnaces are impacting the iron ore market.
The conference included technical sessions covering environmental technologies, industrial minerals, social license and responsibility, mining and exploration and processing. The show also included a exhibit floor with 208 booths.