Iron ore exports from Port Hedland fell sharply in January, but weather played a part

After hitting the highest level on record just one month earlier, iron ore export volumes from Port Hedland fell in January, according to data released by the Pilbara Ports Authority (PPA) on Monday.

The PPA said exports declined to 40.297 million tonnes, down 8.3% on the levels of December.

It was the smallest monthly total since July 2016, and was partially driven by a suspension in port operations for close to a day due to the effects of a tropical low.

However, despite the pullback in exports, volumes from a year earlier still grew by a massive 19.3%.

While a mammoth figure — the highest year-on-year growth since February 2015 — it was augmented by cyclone activity that disrupted operations at the port in late January last year.

The PPA said that export volumes to China — the largest end destination for exports by some margin — fell by 7.7% to 34.489 million tonnes in January. From a year earlier they grew by 19.3%, in line with the increase reported for total exports.

Better reflective of the overall trend, total exports form the port over the past year rose to a record 485.4 million tonnes, up 9.5% on the levels reported in the 12 months to January 2016.

Port Hedland is the world’s largest iron ore loading terminal, and handles ore produced by Fortescue Metals, BHP Billiton and Gina Rinehart’s majority-owned Roy Hill mine.

The growth in exports from the port has coincided with a period of strength in iron ore prices, with the spot price for benchmark 62% fines doubling from the record lows reported in December 2015, according to data provided by Metal Bulletin.

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