Copper Imports by China Slump From Record as Stockpiles Rise

  • Imports may stay below record level in coming months: CRU's Li
  • There's `no need for imports given so much inventory,' Ji says

Imports of copper by China slumped in April from a record the previous month after swelling stockpiles in the top user discouraged purchases. Prices tumbled in London on Monday to the lowest in almost a month.

Cargoes of unwrought copper and products dropped to 450,000 metric tons from 570,000 tons in March, according to data from the General Administration of Customs on Sunday. In the first four months, the imports totaled 1.88 million tons, 23 percent more than the same period a year earlier.

Rising purchases since the December quarter, as policy makers in Asia’s top economy vowed to sustain growth and the property market rebounded, helped to boost inventories of the metal used in wires. In addition, some smelters and traders brought forward imports to hedge against a possible depreciation of the yuan. The drop in shipments of copper in April came as the country’s total imports also contracted in yuan terms, falling for an 18th month.

“It’s in line with expectations after the arbitrage window closed,” Li Chunlan, an analyst from consultancy CRU Group, said by phone from Beijing. While imports may recover slightly in the coming months as the arbitrage losses have narrowed, purchases will stay below the record level given overall weak demand in the country, according to Li.

Ore Imports

Imports of copper ore and concentrate fell 8 percent to 1.26 million tons in April from a month earlier. In the first four months, purchases gained about 31 percent to 5.27 million tons year on year, the data showed. 

Inventories in warehouses tracked by the Shanghai Futures Exchange swelled to a record in March, then fell 15 percent last month, according to bourse data. Holdings in bonded warehouses -- which aren’t publicly disclosed -- rose in April to the most since August, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Copper on the London Metal Exchange sank as much as 1.9 percent on Monday to the lowest since April 12, extending a 4.8 percent decline last week, amid mounting concern about the strength of demand in China. Prices in Shanghai also retreated, falling 1.6 percent, after a 2.7 percent loss last week.

There’s “no need for imports given so much inventory as we enter the low season,” Ji Xianfei, an analyst at Guotai Junan Futures, said from Shanghai before the data were released. There’s also been no profit from arbitrage for a while, said Ji, referring to a lack of opportunity to benefit from differences between prices in China and overseas.

The prospect of weaker imports was flagged by analysts including Li Li from Jinrui Futures Ltd., Ian Roper at Macquarie Group Ltd. and Citigroup Inc.’s David Wilson.

— With assistance by Winnie Zhu

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