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China March copper imports rise 13% as factories resume output

Kitco News

* March unwrought copper imports at 441,926 T, lowest since Oct

* Concentrate shipments also rise on year to 1.78 mln T

* Aluminium exports rebound to highest since May 2019 (Adds comment, background, Jan-March numbers)

By Tom Daly

BEIJING, April 14 (Reuters) - China’s unwrought copper imports in March rose 13% from a year ago, customs data showed on Tuesday, as dwindling scrap supply increased demand for other forms of the metal and factories restarted as coronavirus containment efforts eased.

Imports of unwrought copper, including anode, refined and semi-finished copper products into China, the world’s biggest copper consumer, were 441,926 tonnes last month, the General Administration of Customs said.

That was the lowest monthly total since October but was up from 391,000 tonnes in March 2019 and compared to 846,107 tonnes in January and February 2020 combined.

Argonaut Securities analyst Helen Lau put the relatively high number down to a combination of “shortages of scrap and demand coming back.”

Activity in China’s copper-intensive manufacturing sector unexpectedly expanded in March after contracting to a record low in February due to the COVID-19 epidemic. However, the continued spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, around the globe is expected to keep the Chinese economy under pressure.

Scrap metal collection has slowed in China due to low prices and quarantine measures, traders said last week, meaning the call on unwrought metal has been greater.

For the first quarter, imports were up 9.1% year-on-year at 1.287 million tonnes, customs said.

Imports in March of copper concentrate, used to make refined copper, were the lowest since September at 1.779 million tonnes as smelters reduced operating rates and in some cases moved to defer cargoes amid logistical problems and a build-up in sulphuric acid inventories.

The March figure was up 0.7% year-on-year, however, while concentrate shipments over the first three months of 2020 were down 0.5% year-on-year at 5.547 mln tonnes.

Argonaut’s Lau cautioned that there may be supply issues for copper concentrates as mines in South America have closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I think the market should start to shift its focus to supply tightening,” she added, expecting to see a decline in concentrate imports from May.

Aluminium exports in March fell 5% from a bumper figure a year earlier to 518,594 tonnes but were still at their highest since May 2019. First-quarter exports were 1.19 million tonnes, down 17.5% from a year earlier.

“I am not surprised by the (high) exports because the coronavirus actually spread rapidly outside of China, in Europe and the U.S., from the end of March,” said CRU analyst Wan Ling. “So the exports in March still should be very good. We are very concerned about the numbers in April and May.” (Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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