* Swathe of commodity imports at record levels in 2016
* Beijing's supply-side reform could continue to buoy demand
BEIJING Jan 13 China's commodity imports jumped
again in December, pushing 2016 shipments of goods from crude to
iron ore to record levels and boosting expectations that lower
domestic output will help prolong the months-long buying binge.
For 2016, shipments of oil, iron ore, unwrought copper,
copper concentrates and soybeans hit all-time highs, the General
Administration of Customs said on Friday. Coal was the
exception, but imports were still up by a quarter on a year ago.
Oil and soybeans also hit record monthly totals in December,
while coal shipments were among the highest on record and iron
ore notched up the third biggest volumes for the year.
The splurge helped spur stronger-than-expected imports for
the world's largest trading nation.
The data reflected a major recovery by the world's
second-largest economy, as hefty government spending in
infrastructure fueled demand for base metals and steel, and
Beijing's efforts to clean up dirty industries like coal forced
utilities to scramble for lower-priced supplies abroad.
Concerns linger that slowing economic growth in 2017 will
temper demand and the first two months of the year will be
weaker due to the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of this
But lower output of major products like crude and coal and
buoyant domestic prices could prolong the boom.
Record oil imports of 8.56 million barrels per day (bpd) in
December buoyed crude futures, with shipments expected to
continue rising in 2017 as domestic output slows and Beijing
issues more import quotas to independent refiners, known as
Their rapid expansion drove crude imports and, perhaps more
worrying for their Asian refiners, forced the state-owned
producers to sell a record amount of product abroad.
Seng Yick Tee, a researcher with consultancy SIA Energy,
said he expected China's crude imports to rise by 600,000 bpd in
2017, with teapots accounting for two-thirds of the increase.
Coal arrivals were up more than 50 percent from a year ago,
the latest sign that government-enforced mine closures have
forced utilities to buy from abroad.
If Beijing renews its effort to curb small, privately owned
coal mines after the Lunar New Year, buying could exceed 2016
levels, traders said.
Iron ore arrivals are expected to remain strong into this
year as steel mill demand stays firm, even as the government
continues its crackdwon on inefficient capacity.
In 2016, 45 million tonnes of capacity was closed, but most
of this was already idled.
"We're forecasting crude steel production to rise about 1
percent and we'd expect Chinese demand for iron ore to increase
at a similar level," CLSA head of research Andrew Driscoll said.
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(Reporting by Chen Aizhu, Josephine Mason, Meng Meng, Hallie Gu
in BEIJING, Manolo Serapio in MANILA and Melanie Burton in
SYDNEY; Editing by Richard Pullin)