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China Iron Ore Imports Increase 8.4% to Record on Steel Output

China, the world’s biggest iron ore buyer, boosted imports by 8.4 percent to a record last year amid higher steel production and on speculation the economy is recovering. December purchases were also at an all-time high.

Imports rose to 743.55 million metric tons in 2012, according to customs data released today. Shipments last month climbed to 70.94 million tons, up 7.8 percent from 65.78 million tons in November and 11 percent higher than 64.11 million tons a year earlier, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

China’s steel production may have risen for a 31st year in 2012 driven by construction of railways, roads and bridges, even as growth in the world’s second-largest economy slowed. Gross domestic product is poised to expand 8.1 percent this year, from 7.7 percent in 2012, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed last month by Bloomberg, fueling optimism for steel and iron ore demand.

“It is clear the government would continue with urbanization plans this year, underpinning steel demand as well as raw materials” demand, said Hu Yanping, Beijing-based chief analyst with researcher, “The jump in prices has factored in the market optimism.”

Iron ore has rallied 83 percent since Sept. 5, rebounding from a near-three year low. Ore with 62 percent content delivered to Tianjin was unchanged at $158.5 a dry ton yesterday, a 15-month high, according to data from the Steel Index Ltd.

China’s steel production probably grew 5.1 percent to 720 million tons last year, according to an estimate by Custeel’s Hu. Iron ore imports outpaced the growth of steel production as Chinese mills switched to cheaper imports after iron ore prices dropped during the July-September period.

China may announce steel output figures for 2012 next week.

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