China’s Ore to Coal Imports Reach Records as Demand Gains

China bought a record amount of iron ore, crude oil and coal last year, indicating that demand from the world’s biggest buyer of raw materials remained resilient amid slowing economic growth.

Inbound shipments of iron ore, a key ingredient for steel-making, rose 10 percent from a year earlier to 820 million metric tons, the customs administration said today in Beijing. Crude oil and coal imports climbed to 282 million tons and 330 million tons, respectively. Soybean and natural rubber shipments jumped to all-time highs in December.

Robust purchases by the world’s second-biggest economy underscore the resilient domestic demand that is poised to support growth. Prospects of slower expansion in China and an improving supply outlook led to a 2.2 percent decline in 2013 in the Standard & Poor’s GSCI Index of 24 commodities from oil to copper to corn, the first annual decline since the global financial crisis in 2008.

“Today’s import growth data suggested that domestic demand holds up well” despite “some bearish forecasters who expected much weaker domestic demand,” economists led by Lu Ting at Bank of America Corp. in Hong Kong said in a report after the announcement.

Gross domestic product may have expanded 7.6 percent in 2013, the slowest pace in 14 years, according to a State Council report in late December. Expansion may fall to 7.4 percent in 2014, the median estimate of 48 economists in a Bloomberg News survey last month showed.

“As the U.S. Federal Reserve prepares to reduce stimulus, commodities prices looked to hover at low levels this year,” Zheng Yuesheng, a spokesman at the customs agency, said in a press briefing today in Beijing. “That should benefit Chinese companies as we boost imports at lower costs.”

Copper imports rose 29 percent to 441,291 tons last month from a year earlier, according to the customs data. Stockpiles monitored by exchanges in London, New York and Shanghai are at the lowest since November 2012, with London Metal Exchange inventories dropping for a 46th day.

— With assistance by Feiwen Rong, and Sarah Chen

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