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UPDATE 1-China coking coal futures rally on reported ban on Australia cargoes

* Dalian coking coal, coke hit contract highs

* Australia investigates reports on China ban

* China coking coal imports seen lower in 2020

* China Sept iron ore imports up 8.2% vs Aug (Updates with closing prices, details and additional comment)

MANILA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Dalian coking coal futures rallied for a sixth straight session on Tuesday after reports surfaced that China had stopped buying coal from Australia.

China is the biggest importer of Australian coal, taking 27% of its metallurgical coal in the year ended June and 20% of its thermal coal. Coal was Australia’s second-largest export last year, behind iron ore, worth A$55 billion ($39.52 billion).

Coking coal on China’s Dalian Commodity Exchange closed 1.5% higher at 1,350 yuan a tonne, after touching a contract-high 1,373 yuan earlier in the session.

Coke futures also jumped 1.5% to 2,102.50 yuan a tonne, rising for a fifth session and hitting a contract-high 2,127.50 yuan.

Coke, the processed form of coking coal, is the primary reducing agent of the steelmaking raw material iron ore.

Australia said it was investigating media reports that China has banned its thermal and metallurgical coal, while playing down a potential sign of escalating trade tensions between the two countries.

Chinese steel mills’ reaction to the news seemed to be somewhat muted as the country’s import quota for Australian coal is “already tight”, analysts at Sinosteel Futures Co Ltd in Beijing said.

China’s coal import restrictions resurface from time to time to stabilise local prices during periods of plentiful domestic supply. There may be “another concerted effort by authorities to support the domestic market”, analysts at ANZ said in a note.

The Australian government expects coking coal purchases by China, the world’s top steel producer, to fall to 67 million tonnes this year, from about 75 million tonnes last year.

“The uncertainty (over China’s coal import policy) still exists,” Sinosteel analysts said in a note.

Iron ore futures slumped after data showed China’s imports of the raw material in September rose 8.2% from the prior month, and 9.3% from a year ago to 108.55 million tonnes.

Dalian iron ore dropped 1.6% while the Singapore Exchange benchmark slumped 2.8% by 0715 GMT.

Construction steel rebar on the Shanghai Futures Exchange dipped 0.3% and hot-rolled coil slipped 0.1%. Stainless steel lost 0.9%.

Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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