June 20, 2018, 5:18 am
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China February iron ore imports fall 16%

SHANGHAI- China’s iron ore imports in February fell 16 percent from the previous month, customs data showed on Thursday, as the nation’s week-long Lunar New Year holiday slowed shipments of the steelmaking raw material to the world’s top buyer.

Arrivals fell to 84.27 million tons last month, according to General Administration of Customs data, down from January’s 100.34 million tons, the second-highest level on record.

Imports for the first two months rose 5.4 percent to 184.74 million tons from a year ago, the data showed. February imports rose 0.9 percent from the same month last year.

Appetite from Chinese steel mills slowed this past winter as mills cut production to meet government-mandated curbs aimed at improving air quality, while the Lunar New Year break in mid-February curbed industrial demand.

“More appropriately we can just take the January and February data together (given the holiday) and the average is around 90 to 95 million tons per month and that’s still very strong,” said Wang Di, an analyst with CRU in Beijing.

Wang expected imports to stay high over the next couple of months given seasonal demand recovery in March and April.

China’s iron ore imports in 2017 rose 5 percent to a record 1.075 billion tons, exceeding 1 billion tons for a second straight year. 

Chinese steel exports rose 4 percent to 4.85 million tons in February from the previous month, but fell 16 percent from a year ago, customs data also showed.

China exported 4.65 million tons of steel products in January, the lowest since February 2013. Year-to-date exports tumbled 27 percent at 9.5 million tons.

“In the last six months you can see that Chinese exports have been at around 4.5 million tons a month, which is quite a low level compared to the exports we’ve seen in recent years,” said Daniel Meng, analyst at CLSA in Hong Kong, noting that it shows the tightness of the local market.

“As long as China’s domestic market remains tight, exports would remain slow,” he said.

China imported 1.03 million tons of steel products in February, down 14 percent from a month ago and 6 percent from last year, the data showed. Total January-February imports rose 1.6 percent to 2.218 million tons from a year ago.

Meanwhile, Shanghai rebar steel futures fell for a fifth session on Thursday to touch their lowest in almost two weeks, amid soft demand in top market China, although that is not expected to last long.

The sustained slide in steel prices continued to drag down raw materials iron ore and coking coal, with iron ore dropping to its lowest in nearly five weeks.

Steel prices rose shortly after last month’s Lunar New Year holiday in response to further output curbs planned by Chinese cities including top steel-producing Tangshan beyond the end of the winter heating season on March 15.

But they have since dropped after traders built up ample stocks, with demand remaining slow, said Richard Lu, analyst at CRU consultancy in Beijing.   – Reuters 
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