Iron: Red-Hot or Rusty?
Iron is the most high-demand metal on the planet. It’s used in everything from construction to making magnets and beyond. Today, 90% of all refined metal is Iron, which is steel’s principal raw material. It’s the second most naturally abundant metal after Aluminium.
According to the latest iron ore import-export data, the global iron industry is worth $25 billion and is projected to reach $35 billion by 2028. Here's a closer look at its top players, emerging markets, and prospects.
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Humans discovered iron in the copper age (3,000 BCE), and it became so prevalent that it was bought in the Iron Age (1,200 BCE). The invention of efficient furnaces was the next most significant milestone in Iron’s history. The metal has a melting point of over 1300 degrees Celsius, so rudimentary furnaces were insufficient.
Today we can extract it from various sources like Hematite and Magnetite. We can even control the amount of carbon that’s added during the extraction process. Three to four percent carbon makes cast iron that’s brittle, and less than point-five percent makes it malleable like steel.
Iron is one of the most traded commodities in the world, despite being relatively common. Almost all the countries in the world have their own steel mills. Exporters like Australia and Canada have vast mineral reserves and thriving mining industries, putting them at the top. These two countries lead in Copper exports as well.
According to the iron export data, even countries like Mexico, Vietnam, and Indonesia export this crucial metal. That’s because it is very high in demand, and these countries produce significantly more than they require.
Top Exporting Countries (2021)
- Australia ($118 billion)
- Brazil ($46.2 billion)
- Canada ($8.31 billion)
- South Africa ($7.68 billion)
- Ukraine ($6.83 billion)
There are different reasons why each of these top players is leading in imports. All of them have thriving manufacturing industries and inadequate supply within borders. Just like Rice, China is the exception, being the biggest producer, importer, and consumer of this commodity.
Japan and South Korea invested heavily in the steel industries after the war, making everything from vehicles to appliances. Meanwhile, the Netherlands is a trade hub for all of Europe. According to the iron import data, most of China’s ore is used in construction.
Top importing countries (2021)
- China ($146 billion)
- Japan ($15.1 billion)
- South Korea ($10.6 billion)
- Chinese Taipei ($4.07 billion)
- Netherlands ($3.91 billion)
What to Expect
While in Q1 of 2023, things looked promising for the Iron trade, the situation is pretty bad right now. As stringent Covid restrictions started easing at the beginning of this year, producers doubled down, expecting high demand. This led to massive overproduction in multiple industries. Things look even bleaker now, as the property market is stuffed.
Even vehicle sales are slumping, and investors have slowed down. As the rainy season approaches, construction will more or less come to a halt. All this to say that (ironically enough) a time in the future might be appropriate for an investment in iron.