Imports of refined copper by China, the biggest user, declined in April to the lowest level since June 2011, while exports fell for the first time in eight months.
Inbound shipments were 183,023 metric tons last month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed today. That compared with 218,823 tons in March and 272,903 tons a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Exports tumbled 52 percent to 29,072 tons from 60,642 tons a month earlier, the data showed.
The drop in arrivals has helped draw down inventories tallied by the Shanghai Futures Exchange, which were at the lowest level in seven months last week. Imports may find support in coming months as arbitrage trade by buying the metal in London and selling in Shanghai has become more profitable, while exports may be curbed for the same reason.
“In a relatively normal liquidity environment, the arbitrage ratio is still the main factor in deciding imports and exports,” Liang Lijuan, an analyst at Cofco Futures Co., said by phone from Beijing. “I expect imports to gain in coming months, as exports may be curbed.”
Metal for delivery in September on the SHFE rose 1.7 percent to close at 53,420 yuan ($8,713) a ton, $43 higher than the three-month contract on the London Metal Exchange at $7,410 a ton, including a 17 percent value-added tax.
The pick-up in copper demand in the second quarter may turn out to be little more than an opportunistic buying spree by under-stocked fabricators in China and won’t last into the summer, Standard Bank Plc said in its monthly research report on base metals on May 17.
Copper-concentrate imports by China surged to 842,838 tons last month, according to customs. That compared with 777,838 tons in March and 474,903 tons a year earlier. Total arrivals in the first four months this year jumped 37 percent to 3.06 million tons, the data showed.
Scrap-copper imports fell 9 percent from a year ago to 336,634 tons in April, and inbound shipments in the January-to-April period dropped 4.7 percent to 1.37 million tons. Imports from the U.S. declined 13 percent in April to 72,413 tons, according to today’s data.