SINGAPORE, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Spot iron ore fell to its lowest price in more than a week and sellers slashed offer prices further on Friday as demand from top buyer China remained thin.
Slow steel demand in China, the world's biggest producer and consumer, has weighed on prices, limiting appetite for iron ore with imports in January falling more than 7 percent from December.
"There is hardly demand from Chinese mills at this time," said a physical iron ore trader in Singapore. "Unless steel prices pick up strongly, iron ore will continue to trade in tight ranges with a downward bias."
Offers for imported iron ore in China dropped by another dollar per tonne on Friday, with Australian 61.5-percent grade Pilbara fines at $141-$143 a tonne, 58-grade Yandi fines at $128-$131 and Indian 63.5/63-grade fines at $148-$150, according to Chinese consultancy Umetal. All prices include freight cost.
Iron ore with 62 percent iron content .IO62-CNI=SI eased 0.3 percent to $142.80 a tonne on Thursday, said Steel Index, matching the Feb. 1 level and marking its third straight day of decline.
A tender by Australian miner BHP Billiton on Thursday suggested spot prices could have more room to fall. BHP sold Yandi iron ore fines at $130.75 a tonne versus a previous sale done at $132.50 earlier in the week, traders said.
BHP also sold Newman fines at $146 per tonne, unchanged from an earlier tender, traders said.
BAOSTEEL LIFTS PRICES
Reflecting market expectations that spot rates could slip further, prices of iron ore swaps <0#SGXIOS:> extended losses on Thursday, with contracts at a discount to index-based prices.
"Concern over the health of China's market continues to grow. Some mills in south Hebei are now said to be cutting output because they are making losses selling steel at current steel prices," Steel Index said.
The most-active May rebar contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange closed down 0.3 percent at 4,286 yuan a tonne. It fell 1.1 percent for the week, its first loss in four weeks excluding the Lunar New Year holiday in late January.
But industry pricing leader Baoshan Iron & Steel said on Friday it will increase prices of its main steel products for March after keeping them flat in February, hoping to tap into a recovery in demand by then.
China's iron ore imports fell to 59.32 million tonnes in January from 64.09 million tonnes in the previous month, customs data showed, tracking a similar drop in other commodity imports last month when many factories were shut for a week due to the Lunar New Year break.
"With domestic iron ore production growing faster and port inventories at a historically high level, China won't be that eager to import," said Helen Lau, commodity analyst at UOB-Kay Hian.
Stockpiles of imported iron ore at major Chinese ports--comprising material bought from the spot market and through long-term contracts -- stayed above 100 million tonnes this week, equivalent to more than 1-1/2 months of Chinese imports.