* April trade data due Wednesday
* Increases expected for most commodities, copper to dip
* Pressure on manufacturing may cap growth in Q2
By Fayen Wong
SHANGHAI, May 6 China's main commodity imports
are expected to rise in April from a month ago, supported by a
seasonal recovery in demand, but the pace of growth in the
second quarter will likely be capped by constraints on
China will release preliminary April trade data on
Shipments of crude oil, iron ore and soybeans are all likely
to have climbed for a second month, after shipments fell in
February due to a week-long holiday, although copper arrivals
may ease slightly due to port strikes in top exporter Chile,
"We should see an overall trend of gradual improvement.
Fixed-asset investment grew quite strongly in March and should
continue to accelerate, which will bode well for iron ore and
copper," said Judy Zhu, a commodities analyst with Standard
"But the manufacturing sector will face continued pressure
from an uncertain global outlook and that should keep China's
commodities demand in check."
Imports of crude oil, copper, aluminium and soybeans all
fell in the March quarter -- between 2.3 percent and 45.6
percent from year ago. This marked their first quarterly fall in
at least a year as factories slowed production due to fewer
orders and developers scaled back on construction after a
property market clampdown.
Recent disappointing manufacturing data has raised doubts as
to whether China's economic recovery will accelerate enough in
2013 to sustain big increases in commodity imports, especially
as new supplies are coming onstream and demand from Europe
China's annual export growth may have picked up slightly in
April due to a low comparison from a year ago, while import
growth probably eased, a Reuters poll showed, suggesting the
underlying momentum for both the domestic and global economies
Many traders expect crude oil imports in April will hover
around March levels, as some refineries have continued with
maintenance programmes amid high fuel stocks.
Sinopec Qilu refinery has shut down its 800,000 tonnes per
year ethylene complex and an 80,000 barrels per day (bpd) crude
distillation unit in early April for maintenance, while
PetroChina's Dalian refinery continued maintenance on a 90,000
bpd crude distillation unit, sources said.
Daily crude oil imports by the world's second-largest oil
consumer fell 2.1 percent in March versus a year earlier to 5.43
Total imports in the first quarter fell 2.3 percent from
68.97 million tonnes a year ago.
Arrivals of copper in April are expected to fall slightly
from March's 218,823 tonnes, after port strikes in Chile delayed
term shipments. Shipments due to arrive China in April are now
expected to arrive in May and early June.
Still, improved price differentials between the London Metal
Exchange and Shanghai copper prices prompted more spot buying of
the refined metal by importers, which would support monthly
"We saw fewer Chilean shipments arriving in April, which
should make total imports less than March," a trader at an
international trading house said.
Shipments of refined copper fell 36.7 percent in March from
a year ago, while total imports in the first quarter dropped
Imports are expected to have risen in April from the 64.55
million tonnes that arrived in March. This took total shipments
in the first quarter 186.5 million tonnes, flat on a year
"Steel production is still running at very high levels but
iron ore inventories at ports and mills remain high, which means
imports have risen in April from March," said an iron ore trader
Average daily crude steel output by the world's top producer
rose to above 2.1 million tonnes in April from about 2 million
tonnes in mid-February, data from the steel association showed.
China's soy imports in April are expected to have risen to
4.27 million tonnes from 3.58 million tonnes in March after an
easing in port congestion at main supplier Brazil, according to
forecasts by China National Grain and Oils Information Centre.
The official think-tank forecast imports should climb
further in May to 5.65 million tonnes, the highest so far this
year. The surge in shipments would come amid lower restocking
needs from poultry breeders due to a bird flu scare, and could
ease tight domestic supplies and weigh on prices.
(Additional reporting by Ruby Lian, Judy Hua, Niu Shuping and
Polly Yam; Editing by Richard Pullin)