* China May aluminium output at 2.98 mln tonnes - stats bureau
* Total is highest monthly figure since Dec, but down 0.1% y/y
* Overall nonferrous production in May up 4.1% y/y at 4.98 mln T (Adds overall nonferrous output numbers, milestones, background)
By Tom Daly
BEIJING, June 15 (Reuters) - China’s primary aluminium production edged higher in May from the previous month, official data showed on Monday, as the launch of new smelting capacity and the incentive of higher prices kept supply levels high.
The world’s biggest producer and consumer of aluminium made 2.98 million tonnes of the metal last month, the National Bureau of Statistics said.
That was up 0.4% from 2.967 million tonnes in April and marked the highest monthly total since December. It was down 0.1% from May 2019, said the bureau, which does not typically give individual monthly figures for January and February output.
In the first five months of 2020, aluminium production stood at 14.81 million tonnes, up 2.1% year-on-year.
Domestic output is still rising even as analysts expect China to have imported the most primary aluminium in a decade in May due to an open arbitrage to London prices that makes it cheaper to purchase overseas metal.
Yunnan Aluminium put into operation a 500,000 tonnes per year smelter in Wenshan in mid-May, while Henan Zhongfu Industrial Co powered up a 125,000 tonnes per year production line in Sichuan last month.
Shanghai aluminium prices rose by 5.9% over the course of May, on top of a 9.8% jump in April, as Chinese demand for the metal roars back from low levels during lockdowns to combat the new the coronavirus.
Prices are now comfortably above smelter break-even levels at around 13,600 yuan ($1,900) a tonne.
Meanwhile, production of 10 nonferrous metals - including copper, aluminium, lead, zinc and nickel - rose 1.1% from the previous month to 4.98 million tonnes in May. That was up 4.1% year-on-year and also the highest monthly total since December.
Output of these metals in the first five months of 2020 was up 2.7% year-on-year at 24.13 million tonnes. The other non-ferrous metals in this group are tin, antimony, mercury, magnesium and titanium.
$1 = 7.0874 yuan Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Tom Hogue and Kenneth Maxwell