China Copper Imports Drop to Lowest in 19 Months as Exports Gain

Imports of refined copper by China, the biggest user, declined in February to the lowest level in 19 months, while exports rose for a sixth month.

Inbound shipments were 214,949 metric tons last month, the lowest since July 2011, data from the General Administration of Customs showed today. Exports expanded to 38,569 tons, the highest since May, from 26,213 tons in January, data compiled by Bloomberg showed.

The drop in arrivals due to Chinese New Year holidays in February may help curb the highest inventories in at least 10 years. A preliminary reading of Purchasing Managers’ Index stood at 51.7 in March, according to HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics today. That compares with a final reading of 50.4 for February and median estimate at 50.8 in a Bloomberg survey.

“Imports in the second quarter are likely to remain relatively low compared with last year,” Liang Lijuan, an analyst at Cofco Futures Co., said by phone from Beijing. “The huge inventory and shrinking demand to use the metal as a financing tool will probably curb imports.”

Inventories tallied by the Shanghai Futures Exchange rose to 231,872 tons last week, the highest since Bloomberg started to compile the data in 2003. Trading firms in China have imported the metal to use as collateral to obtain cheaper loans, known as financing, even as the arbitrage window is closed.

Net imports dropped 19 percent to 176,380 tons last month from 216,961 tons in January, according to Bloomberg calculations based on the customs data. Refined-copper imports in the first two months fell 36 percent from a year ago to 458,123 tons, according to the customs office.

Copper-concentrate imports by China fell to 681,148 tons in February from 761,098 tons a month earlier, data from the customs bureau showed today.

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