Zinc imports by China, the world’s largest consumer and producer, may drop from a 10-month high in August as higher overseas prices discourage purchases and as government measures to cool the property market curb demand.
Imports of refined zinc were 32,972 metric tons last month, customs data showed yesterday, the highest level since September 2009. They may drop to the “usual” 10,000 tons to 20,000 tons as demand weakens and domestic smelters resume output, according to Cofco Futures Co. July’s inbound shipments of the metal used to galvanize steel were 52 percent more than in June, according to Bloomberg calculations.
“There were some periods in June where the arbitrage window favored imports,” Lin Yuhui, deputy general manager at Jinhui Futures Co., said from Shenzhen. “It’s doubtful we’ll see such high imports in August as the window was mostly shut in July.” Arbitrage traders try to profit by buying metal in London and selling it in Shanghai, exploiting the gap in prices.
Prices in Shanghai, which include 17 percent value-added tax and import fees, were more than 1,000 yuan-a-ton higher than in London at the beginning of June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Zinc, the worst performer on the London Metal Exchange this year, rallied 13 percent in July, while Shanghai prices gained 12 percent in the same month. Domestic output fell 6.6 percent in June from a month earlier, and declined 4.1 percent in July, as smelters idled capacity following the slump in prices.
Three-month delivery zinc was little changed at $2,046.50 a ton at 1:46 p.m. Singapore time. The contract has lost 20 percent this year. Zinc for December delivery in Shanghai traded at 17,025 yuan ($2,503) a ton at the midday break, down 20 percent this year.
“The increase in imports was due, in part, to lower domestic production,” said Jia Zheng, a trader at Soochow Futures Co. “Imports will drop in August without arbitrage opportunities and as smelters re-open after their summer maintenance.”
Zinc smelters in China may boost output next month as they complete summer maintenance programs, lifting utilization rates from the lowest level since March 2009, Shanghai Metals Market analyst Zhu Yiman said Aug. 18.
Stockpiles in warehouses monitored by the Shanghai exchange were 295,454 tons at the start of June, the highest level since futures started trading in 2007. Inventories were 20 percent lower at 235,972 tons last week as output shrank.
A slowdown in China’s steel industry will hurt zinc demand and reduce imports, said GF Futures Co. analyst Liu Biyuan. Steel prices in China have dropped as much as 17 percent since April as the government took steps to curb property speculation, cutting demand for commodities used in construction.
Chinese regulators curbed loans for third-home purchases, increased downpayment requirements and raised mortgage rates in a series of announcements from mid-April to prevent a bubble in the real-estate market. The slowdown prompted about 40 percent of the country’s steelmakers to idle plants or put them on maintenance, the China Iron and Steel Association said.
“Demand for construction-related steel products has been hit by the government’s curb on the property sector,” Wang Xiang, an analyst at Cofco, said by phone from Shanghai. “Consumption of zinc-galvanized steel sheets has fallen sharply this month.”
Angang Steel Co., China’s biggest Hong Kong-traded steelmaker, may post a loss in the third quarter for the first time in five quarters after steel prices fell and raw-material prices gained. Last month, Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., the biggest publicly traded Chinese steelmaker, cut prices for a second month amid weakening demand from makers of automobiles and appliances.