Russell@ (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)
* Graphic of iron ore futures curve: http://reut.rs/2fnOzmZ
LAUNCESTON, Australia, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Some of the confidence in iron ore's recent rally may be starting to seep out of the market, with the discount for longer-dated futures widening over the past month.
Iron ore futures traded on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) have seen increasing backwardation, when prices for contracts further out along a market's curve are lower than those for settlement in the current month.
This may indicate investors are now expecting the price of iron ore to moderate more in the months ahead than they were just four weeks ago.
It's worth pointing out, however, that the futures curve still remains at a much shallower backwardation than it was at the start of the year, showing that investors also have yet to price in a sharp reversal in iron ore prices.
At the close on Monday, the front-month contract was at $75.63 a tonne, while the six-month was at $70.45 and the 12-month at $65.95.
This put the six-month future at a discount of 6.8 percent to the front-month, and the 12-month at a discount of 12.8 percent.
A month ago on July 7, the six-month future was at a discount of 5.1 percent, while the 12-month was at a discount of 8.7 percent.
This means the backwardation has increased in the past month, reflecting a belief that there is a greater chance that the current price of iron ore won't be sustained.
Spot iron ore for delivery to China <.IO62-CNO=MB> has gained almost 43 percent since hitting the low so far this year at $53.36 a tonne on June 13, touching $76.17 at Monday's close.
This surge has carried through to prices all along the futures curve, but as the widening backwardation shows, the market is cautious about the longevity of the rally.
Still, the backwardation has some way to grow before it reaches the widths that prevailed at the start of the year.
At the close on Jan. 2, for instance, the first trading day of 2017, the six-month contract was at a discount of 17.6 percent to the front-month, while the 12-month was at a discount of 27.3 percent.
At that time the spot price was $77.91 a tonne, not too far from the current level.
But even though the front-month price is now much the same, the backwardation of the curve is considerably flatter than it was at the beginning of January.
This may show that investors now have more confidence in the sustainability of higher iron ore prices than they did in January, notwithstanding a loss of some of that confidence in the past four weeks.
Most analysts expect iron ore prices to moderate over the rest of the year, citing ample supplies, new output from top exporters Australia and Brazil, near record port stocks in China, and expectations that robust steel production in China will start to ease as the northern winter looms.
If this scenario does eventuate, it probably means the backwardation in the iron ore futures curve will steepen.
But as things stand right now, investors in futures still seem to have more confidence than analysts.
(Editing by Tom Hogue)