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- CRB Fundamentals - 2008 Commodity Articles

Iron and Steel

Iron (symbol Fe) is a soft, malleable, and ductile metallic element. Next to aluminum, iron is the most abundant of all metals. Pure iron melts at about 1535 degrees Celsius and boils at 2750 degrees Celsius. Archaeologists in Egypt discovered the earliest iron implements dating back to about 3000 BC, and iron ornaments were used even earlier.

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, often with an admixture of other elements. The physical properties of various types of steel and steel alloys depend primarily on the amount of carbon present and how it is distributed in the iron. Steel is marketed in a variety of sizes and shapes, such as rods, pipes, railroad rails, tees, channels, and I-beams. Steel mills roll and form heated ingots into the required shapes. The working of steel improves the quality of the steel by refining its crystalline structure and making the metal tougher. There are five classifications of steel: carbon steels, alloy steels, high-strength low-alloy steels, stainless steel, and tool steels.

Prices - In 2007 the average wholesale price for No. 1 heavy melting steel scrap in Chicago rose by +16.7% to $262.69 per metric ton. This was a new record high. The price was holding firm into 2008.

Supply - World production of iron ore in 2005 (latest data available) rose by +12.8% to 1.534 billion metric tons, which was a new record high. The world's largest producers of iron ore are China (with 27% of world production in 2005), Brazil (with 18%), and Australia (with 17%). The U.S. accounted for only 4.0% of world iron ore production in 2005. World production of raw steel (ingots and castings) in 2005 rose +5.7% to 1,120 million metric tons, with the largest producers being China (with 31% of world production), Japan (with 10%), and the U.S. (with 8%).

U.S. production of steel ingots in 2006 rose by +5.7% to a 7-year high of 108.6 million short tons. U.S. production of pig iron (excluding ferro-alloys) in 2006 rose by +4.4% to 41.780 million short tons from 40.036 million short tons in 2005.

Demand - U.S. consumption of ferrous scrap and pig iron fell -2.1% yr/yr in 2005 to 103.400 million metric tons, but still above the 102.900 million metric tons in 2003, which was the lowest level since 1986. The largest consumers of ferrous scrap and pig iron were the manufacturers of pig iron and steel ingots and castings with 88% of consumption at 91.500 million metric tons in 2005. Iron foundries and miscellaneous users accounted for 10% of consumption, and manufacturers of steel castings (scrap) accounted for 2% of consumption.

Trade - The U.S. imported 11.5 million metric tons of iron ore in 2006, down 11.5% yr/yr from 13.0 million metric tons in 2005. The bulk of U.S. iron ore imports came from Canada (54% with 6.240 million metric tons) and Brazil (39% with 4.530 million metric tons).

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