Volume increases, healthy price growth and a weaker Australian Dollar mean the value of Port Hedland’s iron ore exports is at an all-time high, according Rail Express analysis.
After a serious slump over the prior year and a half, the price of iron ore has rebounded healthily in recent months.
The medium- and long-term prospects for the commodity remain uncertain.
But in February 2017, iron ore traded at an average of US$88.80 per metric tonne, up from US$80.82 in January 2017, and well-up from the price at the bottom of the trough: US$40.88 in December 2015.
US$88.80 a tonne is still down, of course, from the peak iron ore price around the start of 2014, when iron ore traded at an average of US$128.12 per tonne.
But this gap is less significant for Australian iron ore exporters, who have seen one Aussie Dollar drop from 88.6 US cents to 76.6 US cents in that same time frame.
What that drop means is a less significant gap between now and the peak for Australian exporters.
In Aussie Dollars, iron ore averaged $144.56 in January 2014, and $115.88 in February 2017.
That’s a difference of just 19.8%, compared to the 30.7% difference between the two US Dollar prices.
The iron ore price in Australian Dollars has diverged from the price in US Dollars, as the exchange rate between the two currencies has moved further away from parity in recent years. (Click to enlarge)
On top of stronger prices in recent months, volumes have increased dramatically out of Port Hedland in the same time frame.
Port Hedland is, for the most part, used by miners BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals Group and Roy Hill, while fellow iron ore miner Rio Tinto uses the nearby Dampier Port.
Port Hedland averaged 34.5 million tonnes of iron ore exports each month in 2014.
That figure went up to around 37.4 million tonnes per month in 2015.
And in 2016 it climbed again, to 39.9 million tonnes per month.
40.3 million tonnes was exported in January 2017, and 35.7 million tonnes was loaded in February, with operations impacted by inclement weather.
(Click to enlarge)
When the volume growth and improved price is considered in Australian Dollar terms, the last three months have been the most valuable in terms of total iron ore exports at the port in quite some time.
The figures are obviously estimates based on the spot price, and don’t take contracts into account.
But based on the market value of the iron ore, December 2016’s iron ore exports out of Port Hedland were worth $4.75 billion, up from $2.12 billion in the same month a year earlier, and even up on the three-year record of $4.3 billion estimated for April 2014.
The December 2016 figure was also backed up by strong numbers in January ($4.38 billion) and February ($4.13 billion).
It’s anyone’s guess how long this purple patch will last, however.
A recent HSBC report predicted the price of iron ore may return to below US$40 a tonne this calendar year, before levelling to a long-term forecast of roughly US$52 a tonne.
The price will likely be subdued by slowing Chinese demand, along with a continued growth in supply.
In Australia alone, more Roy Hill capacity is set to come online, Rio Tinto has its 360mtpa growth project, and BHP Billiton has its own 290mtpa target.
Meanwhile, HSBC is reportedly expecting Chinese demand to drop 33 million tonnes in FY17 and a further 44 million tonnes in FY18.
WA Premier-elect Mark McGowan has made the cancellation of a $450 million contract to kick off the controversial Perth Freight Link toll road his immediate focus.
The contract to design and construct the Roe 8 project – a 5-kilometre extension of the Roe Highway in Perth’s south – was awarded to a private sector consortium in October 2016.
Roe 8 is controversial because it goes through a biodiverse section of wetlands.
But it is also the first stage of the Perth Freight Link, a project which has also been challenged on logistical grounds by many stakeholders, including the Labor Party at both a state and federal level.
McGowan signalled prior to the election that a WA Labor Government would terminate the Roe 8 deal.
It is currently contracted to a consortium of CPB Contractors, Georgiou, WA Limestone, GHD, AECOM and BG&E.
WA Labor’s announcement was criticised heavily by the Federal Coalition Government, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saying the $1.2 billion in Commonwealth funding would not be allowed to be spent elsewhere.
Despite this, an undeterred McGowan confirmed Roe 8 will be cancelled on a Perth radio station on Monday, after his party won Saturday’s election in a landslide.
“When we’re sworn-in we’ll confirm the decision not to proceed with Roe 8,” McGowan told 6PR.
“I’m happy to go and speak to workers.”
McGowan reportedly believes the contract can be terminated for $30 million.
His next challenge will be convincing a Liberal PM to let him have that $1.2 billion in Commonwealth funding for WA Labor’s infrastructure plan, Metronet.
The $3 billion Metronet plan is a series of major urban rail projects, starting with an extension of the Joondalup line to Yanchep.
Turnbull was adamant before the election that the federal money would go back to the Commonwealth if it was not spent on the toll road.
“If any future state government in Western Australia were to decide not to proceed with this project then obviously the money allocated to that project would no longer be available,” he said in February.
A $450 million toll road contract may be ripped up, and a major rail build program could soon begin, after the Labor Party overthrew the Coalition at the WA election.
When the dust settled on Saturday night, Labor had thrashed the Liberal National Coalition in Western Australia’s 40th state election.
ABC experts have 40 seats going to Labor, and 19 going to the LNP.
If that estimate holds, it will be a 19-seat swing compared to 2013.
Outgoing Liberal premier Colin Barnett made his concession speech less than three hours after polls closed.
“Politics is a brutal, harsh business,” Barnett said.
“We ran, in my view, a great campaign, but time was probably against us.”
Victorious Labor leader Mark McGowan praised voters, saying they “voted for hope and opportunity over desperation and division”.
“Today we showed we are a state of decency and intelligence, not a state of stupidity and ignorance,” he said.
The implications for the transport sector are yet to be seen.
Prior to the election, McGowan said he would cancel the Perth Freight Link toll road, and would redirect Commonwealth funding into Labor’s Metronet urban rail plan.
But Roe 8, the first 5-kilometre section of the Perth Freight Link, was contracted to a consortium of CPB Contractors, Georgiou, WA Limestone, GHD, AECOM and BG&E in October last year.
Labor said it would have to consult with its legal advisors over negotiating the termination of the $450 million contract.
Further complicating matters, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is adamant the $1.2 billion in federal funding for the Perth Freight Link project may not to be spent on another project.
“If any future state government in Western Australia were to decide not to proceed with this project then obviously the money allocated to that project would no longer be available,” Turnbull said in February.
The situation is reminiscent of the Andrews Government’s cancellation of Melbourne’s East West Link toll road project after it won the Victorian state election in 2014.
Then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott slammed the move, which saw hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on a cancelled contract.
Abbott said the Commonwealth funding for East West would not be redirected to other projects.
But after lengthy talks between Victoria and the Commonwealth, the federal East West funding was eventually redirected to a range of road and freight rail projects.
McGowan has pointed to the saga as evidence his new WA Government should be allowed to redirect the Perth Freight Link funding.
“We would expect the same treatment as Victoria received and I would not take any notice of the blusterings of ministers, federal ministers, before the state election,” McGowan said prior to election day.
Federal Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese on Sunday said the election was a vote against the toll road.
“This was a vote about a dud project,” Albanese told ABC Radio the morning after the election.
“The Perth Freight Link – thought up by Tony Abbott and Mathias Cormann in their 2014 Budget … didn’t have a business case, didn’t have an environmental impact statement, [and] doesn’t actually take freight to the port [of Fremantle].
“People saw that for what it was and they wanted Mark McGowan’s plan for Metronet.
“When Malcolm Turnbull threatened West Australians by saying ‘unless you voted for the Liberal Party we will rip $1.2 billion away from Western Australia’, [voters] reacted badly to that,” he added.
Australian Greens senator Janet Rice said the election was a victory for communities who stood up against “toll road agendas”.
“We can now add Roe 8 to the growing list of absurd private toll road plans that have undone governments, including the failed East West Link in Victoria,” Rice said on Sunday.
“Malcolm Turnbull must realise that the knocking at his door will only go away if he starts investing in public transport, not great big polluting toll roads that rip through local communities and green spaces.”
With a once-booming economy faltering and many fearing for their jobs, Western Australians seem primed for a change of government on March 11, Natalie Mast writes.
The past four years have not been kind to Western Australia. Coming off a once-in-a-lifetime boom, the bust, which for some reason the state always forgets to anticipate, is cutting deep, and it’s proving a problem for the Barnett-led Coalition government.
It’s worse in some remote parts of the state, where property prices have dropped by up to 75% over the last three years.
For those who have maintained their jobs, many are still in a worse financial position as bonuses and other financial incentives from the boom dry up. Others managing to find employment now have reduced salaries.
The public education system has increased its share of the students in each of the last five years. Part of this rise has been attributed to the downturn in the economy, as people divert money from school fees to the mortgage and other essentials. This in turn adds costs to the state budget.
Who’s responsible for this situation?
During his two terms, Premier Colin Barnett has projected the image of a leader in control. Treasurers have come and gone, and most ministers have minimal presence in the media. Barnett is the face of the government, and he bares the brunt of a scared and angry population, wondering what happened to his 2009 promise of a 20-year boom with growth of 5-7% a year.
During the recent leaders’ debate on February 22, Barnett pointed to his government’s investment in schools and health, with construction of the Fiona Stanley and new Perth Children’s hospitals. The latter has yet to open and is now more than a year behind schedule.
Labor leader Mark McGowan is running an old-fashioned scare campaign claiming prices will rise if the monopoly is sold. Energy prices have long been contentious in Western Australia, with the Barnett government overseeing a 67% price increase for households since 2009, admittedly off an artificially low base. McGowan is arguing the state should not sell off a revenue-generating monopoly to deal with the debt.
The second issue is public transport. The Barnett government has broken promises to deliver improved services to the outer suburbs of Perth, in places such as Ellenbrook.
The government’s key 2013 election transport promise of Max light-rail was abandoned as the state’s economic situation deteriorated.
Labor has resurrected its highly popular Metronet rail plan from the last election. Federal leader Bill Shorten is promising to help fund the plan should Labor return to government at the national level.
The costs of Metronet appear rubbery at the moment, but WA Labor is also planning to divert federal funding from the controversial Roe 8 highway.
While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated the Commonwealth will not allow the diversion of funds, McGowan is pointing to the success of the Victorian Labor government in cancelling the East-West Link and using the funding for other projects.
WA is also seeing an increase in crime, some of which is linked to the so-called ice epidemic. Both parties are promising to be tough on crime. The Liberals are promising mandatory sentencing and Labor is advocating a maximum sentence of life for meth dealers.
During his blink-and-you-miss-it trip west, Turnbull disappointed Liberals with his lack of a plan to provide WA with its fair share of GST. Barnett has been campaigning on this issue for years, and the claimed A$4.7 billion annual shortfall in funds would help with the budget deficit.
Just how big is the swing to Labor?
There are 59 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Liberals go into the election holding 30 seats and the Nationals seven, for a total of 37. Labor holds 21 seats. There’s one independent, former Liberal minister Rob Johnson.
Polling has been somewhat inconsistent. A ReachTEL poll for The West Australian on February 19 showed a two-party-preferred (TPP) result of 50-50. The two previous polls had Labor at 52-48 on TPP.
On February 23, The West published a private poll of marginal seats funded by advocacy group, The Parenthood, again conducted by ReachTEL. The West noted a surge to Labor, with all six seats polled (Southern River, Perth, Mt Lawley, Wanneroo, Joondalup and Bicton) predicted to fall with an average TPP swing of 15%.
Fairfax commissioned a ReachTEL poll published on March 3, in which Labor had a 52-48 lead on the TPP vote. The swing of 9% suggests Labor could fall one seat short in its bid to gain government.
How important are One Nation Preferences?
From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, Barnett’s preference deal with One Nation is a legitimate gamble. His unpopular government is facing electoral defeat and with One Nation’s fortunes on the rise again in WA, shoring up the two party preferred vote is essential.
There are risks in the deal. The first question put to the premier by the panel at the leaders’ debate focused on how a man with integrity could engage in a “dirty preference deal”. While One Nation may have become more politically savvy, the party’s distasteful views remain and trying to suggest the party reflects mainstream opinion is disingenuous.
Barnett risks losing preferences from Nationals who are outraged at being placed behind One Nation in the Legislative Council, Greens who won’t direct their preferences on principle, and moderate Liberals protesting the deal.
The flow of preferences from One Nation supporters isn’t guaranteed either. Despite Pauline Hanson’s “it’s my party, I am the leader and I make the deals” position, a number of WA One Nation candidates are unhappy. Two were disendorsed — although it is unclear how large a role their position on the preference deal played.
A week out, the bookmakers have Labor at A$1.30 and the Coalition at A$3.40. The betting would suggest that WA is about to have a change of government.
Rail Express, the leading industry title in Australian rail, has a new owner: Mohi Media.
Announcing the sale, Informa publishing director Peter Attwater said the company had decided to concentrate on other core areas of its business as opposed to trade publishing.
“It has been a great pleasure to have Rail Express in our stable, and I am delighted that the magazine and staff have found a new home with Mohi Media,” he said.
“I am sure it will continue to produce its high standard of content and I wish the whole team all the best,” he added.
(Left to Right) ABHR editor Charles Macdonald; Rail Express editor Oliver Probert; Mohi Media principal Mohi Media; Bulk Handling Equipment & Services Guide editor Ronda McCallum; ABHR and Rail Express national sales manager Patrick Roberts; Informa Australia publishing director Peter Attwater; and ABHR sales executive Margaret Shannon.
Mohi Media is a local, specialist publishing company. The business’ principal, Michael Mohi, is an experienced media executive with an extensive background in television, publishing and printing.
Michael has a long association with Rail Express. As senior executive for printing company Spotpress, he has handled the magazine’s printing and production for the past seven years.
For the last six months, Michael worked closely with the Rail Express team and Informa management during the magazine’s transition of ownership.
“I’ve been close to Rail Express for many years,” Michael explained.
“I’m very confident that the publication will grow over the next few years and I am currently developing new ideas with the team to build upon what is a very well established and important industry product.”
Michael, a Kiwi, has 45 years’ media experience. He worked as a radio and television journalist and current affairs producer with the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation and Television New Zealand. Crossing the Tasman, Michael joined TCN Nine as a director and amongst other duties was responsible for the network’s promotion of World Series Cricket.
In the 1980s he formed his own publishing business, successfully launching a raft of national magazines in Australia. He launched Countdown magazine with the ABC, the title becoming Australia’s biggest circulating youth music lifestyle magazine with a circulation of over 100,000 copies.
Mohi Media has also acquired Rail Express sister publication Australian Bulk Handling Review, also from Informa.
COMMENT: Perth’s Roe 8 project illustrates all that is wrong with how we are planning and managing infrastructure in our cities, Peter Newman writes.
The Beeliar Group of professors formed recently to oppose the building of a new highway, called Roe 8, through an important wetland and woodland regional park in Perth’s southern suburbs. They have joined a very active campaign, adding substance to the passion of community activists.
The government’s Roe 8 actions demonstrate the desperate need for scrutiny. They are destructive first steps in a poorly conceivedPerth Freight Link that will lock in a Fremantle container port for 50 years, when a new harbour at Kwinana was clearly needed and already underway.
The environmental assessment process was over-ridden and the conditions associated with construction are constantly being disregarded. Important Aboriginal sites and health impacts were not taken into consideration.
The Roe 8 project illustrates all that is wrong with how we are planning and managing infrastructure in our cities. The Beeliar Group suggests the lack of transparency and accountability for the project points to a government that has lost its sense of responsibility. It’s probably also a result of federal government intervention that upset proper processes of planning.
These interventions were highly unusual. The Commonwealth normally assesses and funds but does not suggest specific projects. The desperate activism associated with these three projects suggests we need to avoid such top-down planning.
What’s the alternative?
How do we depoliticise infrastructure planning and delivery? What is happening around the world on major infrastructure projects? And what principles and processes can help create infrastructure that satisfies long-term responsibilities?
The problem with freeways is that they create an ever-increasing dependence on cars and trucks. As soon as they are finished, induced demand leads to more congestion and the need for more highway capacity.
At least 22 cities have now removed freeways. This has happened especially in areas where freeways do most damage – as in the central and inner city, where urban fabrics are built around walking and public transport. Or sometimes freeways are stopped when they have severe impacts on major public open spaces, as Roe 8 does.
Copenhagen abandoned its American-style freeway plans when it was clear much-loved lakes would be filled in. River frontages in most cities are no longer seen as places to put corridors of bitumen. And hanging over all new infrastructure is the shadow of climate-change responsibilities.
Restoring principled planning
How should we proceed in our cities to provide 21st-century mobility?
There are two key principles: the economics of infrastructure should be the basis of assessing value; and partnerships are needed to create value from infrastructure.
Three core factors create value in a transport infrastructure project: accessibility, amenity and agglomeration. Each creates economic value and can be measured – though the really big value happens when they occur together.
In my experience, new urban rail projects generate the most economic value. Road and rail projects that unlock value in freight delivery are also important.
In contrast to Roe 8, building a new outer harbour at Kwinana and redeveloping Fremantle harbour would solve current issues and look to be very good economics. The new harbour would create 11,000 direct jobs and A$13.9 billion (net present value) in gross regional product over 20 years. Redeveloping the old harbour would generate 7,265 direct jobs and $4.4 billion.
A range of other benefits would flow on from these projects. These include not having to clear environmentally sensitive bushland and removing the negative impact of container trucks from the city and suburbs.
The kind of value creation outlined occurs through partnerships between government agencies, the private sector – which usually owns the land and builds the projects – and local communities.
True economic value is created when they put their money, powers and abilities together into one project pot that delivers accessibility, amenity and agglomeration. This did not happen on Roe 8 – it fails on all three parameters – but potentially can happen on the outer harbour.
In the 21st century we need new processes to build these partnerships. The creation of Infrastructure Australia, which cut across government agencies and enabled close partnerships with private sector expertise and finance, was a major step forward. It has been copiedaround the world.
Such bodies are able to tackle major infrastructure assessments and help develop new ways of creating value through partnerships. However, they need to involve local communities if they are truly going to create local amenity as well as accessibility and agglomeration benefits.
As an example, public transport has developed a market in cities due to its speed and spatial efficiency. But this can only be funded if land developers are brought into partnership with transport providers and government planners as well as local communities. Unlocking the value of land and of reduced car dependence depends on creating such partnerships where governments alone cannot do it.
This is the basis of what we call the Entrepreneur Rail Model for creating and delivering new transport value in cities. This model can help considerably in developing the passenger transport side of the Roe 8 plan rather than an old freeway concept.
Freight needs similar partnerships. A suggested alternative to the Roe 8 and Perth Freight Link is a new set of road and rail links around the city to a new port at Kwinana. The local council and community have strongly embraced this.
Some facilities have even been built already. This includes a large intermodal terminal as the site has the potential to take large container ships that no other Australian port can manage, then link across the nation through rail lines. This is why the project has been called the Indian Ocean Gateway.
Such a project would create huge economic value. It cannot be developed, though, without forging new partnerships with the private sector to unlock the possibilities for private finance and public good.
Infrastructure solutions for cities in the next 50 years cannot just continue to be rolled out as they were in the past 50 years. It will be especially dangerous if politicians intervene in favour of old solutions that do nothing to create value.
A battle over dust levels in the Pilbara mining export town of Port Hedland could threaten BHP Billiton’s plans to expand annual iron ore export capacity at the site by 20 million tonnes.
BHP has an application with Western Australia’s Department of Environment Regulation to amend its licence to export 290 million tonnes of iron ore per annum, up from its current allowance of 270 million tonnes.
The miner wants to have 290mtpa run rate by 2019.
But a number of sources are reporting the DER is stalling the approval process, due to increased pressure from local interests who say the threat of increased dust levels is too high.
Locals are already complaining that the levels of dust put out by the rail unloading, and ship loading facility is unacceptable. Adding 20 million tonnes of extra annual throughput would only make this worse, they argue.
Port Hedland mayor Camilo Blanco says BHP has failed to contain dust levels, telling the AFR local residents are upset over iron ore dust blowing across the town.
“I know [BHP Billiton] are not doing what they should be in the way of dust management,” he was quoted as saying.
“There is no two ways about that. You hear that from employees. Clearly they are not going to admit to that in the public arena but they could do far better and, at the end of the day, I suppose it is all about saving money.”
The explosive comments come six months after the ABC wrote about a leaked report from the DER’s Port Hedland Dust Management Taskforce, which recommended the removal of permanent residents from dust-affected areas of Port Hedland.
The taskforce report also suggested banning new developments in the town’s West End, according to the ABC.
BHP asset president for WA iron ore, Edgar Basto, told the AFR conditions at the port were improving.
“BHP Billiton’s dust performance at Port Hedland has improved over time, despite an increase in production, due to the effective use of our broad range of dust controls that reduce dust generation at every point of the ore handling process,” Basto was quoted as saying.
“We monitor dust levels on a 24-hour basis and adjust our operations accordingly.
“We will continue to work with the regulators, the local community and the companies in Port Hedland to make progress under the process the government has put in place.”
State governments have voiced their concern over Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s determination to continue Australia’s heavy reliance on coal in energy generation.
The Queensland and Victorian Governments have both moved to discourage new coal investment, after Turnbull addressed the National Press Club on February 1.
As old coal power stations were being shut down around the nation, more modern coal stations should be built to replace their supply capacity, the PM said.
Coal is, of course, the only major form of energy generation that creates volume for bulk rail operators in Australia.
“We’ve invested $590 million since 2009 in clean coal technology research and demonstration,” Turnbull said.
“Yet we do not have one modern high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power station, let alone one with carbon capture and storage.”
Turnbull does not think gas can replace the capacity being lost through coal plant closures, “because it’s too expensive”.
Likewise, he said renewables like wind and solar can’t be relied on “because they are intermittent”.
One solution to the intermittent nature of renewables is better storage technology, and the PM said the Coalition planned to invest in that area.
But he was adamant coal is the way to go in the near future.
“The next incarnation of our national energy policy should be technology agnostic,” he said.
“It’s security and cost that matters most, not how you deliver it.“This issue is particularly relevant for NSW as we consider how the state’s future energy needs will be met, as well as because our high quality coal is NSW’s largest export commodity by value,” NSW Minerals Council boss Stephen Galilee said.
“Coal will continue to play a critical role in the delivery of reliable and inexpensive electricity in Australia,” Minerals Council of Australia coal director Greg Evans said.
“Australia’s energy policy must reflect the reality that we need a genuine mix of electricity generation options that deliver affordable and reliable power.”
State energy ministers from both Queensland and Victoria were not convinced, however.
Queensland energy minister Mark Bailey ruled out building a new coal plant in the state, saying there was already enough capacity in the pipeline.
“With the start of a large scale renewable industry under the Palaszczuk Government, North Queensland is getting its own power stations, with 21st century technology producing affordable, clean energy,” Bailey said.
“The [Coalition] are advocating unachievable projects because they don’t understand the modern energy market of 2017 and Queensland’s existing energy mix.”
Bailey also said he believes energy prices will go up if new coal plants are built.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s minister for energy, environment and climate change Lily D’Ambrosio said the Victorian Coalition’s proposed staged closure of the Hazelwood coal plant would see Victorians paying 25% more for their electricity.
“Today is yet another example that the Coalition have no idea when it comes to keeping power prices down for Victorian families, alongside their complete contempt for the Latrobe Valley during these tough times,” she said.