Iron Ore

Why December is a bullish month for iron ore and BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue investors

Fri 01 Dec 23, 12:52pm (AEDT)
Yellow truck at a mine site
Source: iStock

Key Points

  • Iron ore prices have historically performed well in December, with an average gain of 10.6%
  • After a strong rally in November, iron ore prices have tended to continue to rise in December
  • Citi analysts believe that iron ore prices could reach US$140 a tonne in the next three months, driven by Chinese government stimulus and resilient steel demand

Iron ore prices advanced 8.6% in November and briefly hit a 17-month high of US$135 a tonne, defying the downbeat housing and manufacturing data from China. But if seasonality were anything to go by, November is supposed to be the entree and there's still a big opportunity for traders to chase gains in December.

Before we dive in, we're referring to benchmark 62% iron ore futures on the Singapore exchange. The contract started trading in November 2008 so there's only 15 years of data available.


Iron ore's seasonal performance

The below data looks at the average performance in the corresponding periods.

In the past fifteen years:

  • December performance: +10.6%

  • Median December performance: +9.36%

  • % of the time December is positive: 93% or 14 out of 15 times

  • November through to next February: +18.3%

iron ore seasonality iron ore average monthly returns since 2008
Source: Market Index

In the past 10 years:

  • December performance: +9.4%

  • Median December performance: +8.81%

  • % of the time December is positive: 90%

  • November through to next February: +14.4%

In the past five years:

  • December performance: +15.2%

  • Median December performance: 18.2%

  • % of the time December is positive: 100%

  • November through to next February: +21.1%


How does iron ore perform after a 'Big November'

There's often a lot of discomfort when it comes to buying something that's rallied in a rather vertical fashion.

Buying an asset that's already rallied significantly increases the risk of purchasing it at its peak, potentially leading to a 'staircase up and elevator down' scenario. This begs the question: How does iron ore perform after a big November?

Our data set shows five instances where iron ore prices rallied at least 10% in November. Here are the subsequent performances:


Year

November % Chg

December % Chg

2009

14.1%

15.4%

2010

11.9%

1.4%

2011

10.7%

5.7%

2016

15.7%

12.2%

2017

15.5%

4.7%


The average gain in December was 7.9% versus the 11.2% of all other years. While a little bit softer than the average of all other years, the data suggests that November momentum has the tendency to carry over into December.


The state of play in China

Most of China's recent economic data prints have come in below market expectations. But every downbeat headline tends to come with a 'more stimulus expected' attached. Some recent data points of interest include:

  • China's manufacturing PMI contracted for a second straight month in November and at a quicker place, down to 49.4 in November vs. analyst expectations of 49.7 (Reuters)

  • Profits at China's industrial firms rose at a slower pace in October, up 2.7% year-on-year from an 11.9% increase in September, suggesting more policy support from Beijing is needed to help shore up growth (Reuters)

  • House prices in major Chinese cities fell for a fourth straight month in October, flagging the steepest drop in nearly nine years as demand continues to slump (SCMP)


Citi says 'buy the dip'

Citi analysts upgraded their 3-month price forecast for iron ore to US$140 a tonne from US$120 a tonne on 22 November.

“We now expect in our base cases that China will likely increasingly push towards fiscal expansion to engineer investment-led growth, and this time with a focus on urban village redevelopment/affordable housing to support overall property market related activity in 2024," the analysts said.

"Any dip in iron ore from here through to at least Chinese New Year could represent a buying opportunity."

On a separate note, Chinese steel prices have rebounded strong in November and this momentum is "expected to extend to December, supported by resilient steel demand from both domestic and international markets, as well as firming raw material prices," according to Mysteel's chief analyst Wang Jianhua.

"The recent rises in China's interbank lending rates indicate that capital needs are recovering in domestic markets, which means domestic enterprises' operations have turned more active," Wang added, noting that this is likely to drive up domestic steel demand.

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Written By

Kerry Sun

Content Strategist

Kerry holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Monash University. He is an avid swing trader, focused on technical set ups and breakouts. Outside of writing and trading, Kerry is a big UFC fan, loves poker and training Muay Thai. Connect via LinkedIn or email.

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