China's Refined Copper Imports Jump to Record as Economy Revives

  • Purchases surge 36% in the first three months, customs says
  • Credit expansion spurs property rebound, boosting demand

China’s imports of refined copper climbed to a record last month as the economy stabilized, the property market recovered and after buying by the state reserve supported domestic prices, making it attractive to place overseas orders. Purchases of refined zinc and nickel also increased.

The world’s biggest metals consumer shipped in 458,068 metric tons of copper, 39 percent more than a month earlier, according to the customs agency Thursday. Purchases surged 36 percent to 1.11 million tons in the first quarter. Exports more than doubled from February to 23,375 tons, the highest in 10 months, the data show.

Policy makers have vowed to sustain economic growth and a surge of new credit has spurred a rebound in the property market. Gross domestic product rose 6.7 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, in line with the government’s growth target of 6.5 percent to 7 percent for the full year. New credit, industrial output, fixed-asset investment and retail sales picked up in March and beat analysts’ forecasts.

“There’s been state-reserve purchases, a demand recovery and production cuts, and they’ve all spurred imports,” Helen Lau, an analyst at Argonaut Securities (Asia) Ltd., said by phone from Hong Kong. “Imports may stay at a high level in the coming months given the ample liquidity in the market.”

The surge in refined imports was foreshadowed earlier this month by a jump in purchases of unwrought copper and products to 570,000 tons in March, also an all-time high. Demand picked up after the Lunar New Year holidays in February as manufacturers resumed operations. The state reserve bought 150,000 tons of copper in January as prices traded near the lowest since 2009, according to people with knowledge of the deal at the time.

Zinc imports jumped 72 percent from a month earlier to 76,998 tons in March and more than doubled to 180,985 tons in the first three months. Purchases of nickel rebounded 45 percent to 42,511 tons last month, the highest level since July, customs data show.

— With assistance by Martin Ritchie, and Winnie Zhu

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