Bay Street: Steel slump puts crimp in Labrador Trough

Sun Dec 2, 2012 10:31am EST
 

By Julie Gordon

TORONTO (Reuters) - "Strike while the iron is hot," the old saying goes, and a legion of iron ore miners setting up in Canada's remote Labrador Trough want to do just that. But, for now, they have to wait.

Iron ore, the main component of steel, has turned ice cold in recent months, with the benchmark price .IO62-CNI=SI plunging to $86.70 a tonne in September from $149.40 in April. It has since recovered to about $116 a tonne.

The downward spiral has jeopardized the viability of the sub-Arctic region's vast iron ore deposits just as the first new mines in decades were opening. Some projects are being put on hold.

As a consequence, shares of junior miners such as Alderon Iron Ore Corp ADV.TO, Champion Iron Mines Ltd CHM.TO and Century Iron Mines Corp FER.TO, have tumbled as projects that looked rich at $150 a tonne suddenly lost their luster.

Still, analysts say the region's potential remains compelling. They caution, though, that investors must look closely at the contenders to judge which are best placed to ride out the bad times and prosper over the long term.

"There's opportunity for the region, but there are challenges and uncertainty," said RBC Capital Markets mining analyst Robin Kozar. "Many companies will not succeed, but at the same time, some companies will be successful."

CHINA COMETH

The Labrador Trough, which straddles the border between Quebec and the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, has attracted a wave of foreign interest in recent years, as Chinese and Indian steelmakers have scrambled to stake a claim in the world's next big iron mining district.   Continued...