July 12, 2019 / 10:32 AM / 10 days ago

China copper imports in June fall 27% from a year earlier

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s unwrought copper imports in June fell 27.2% from a year earlier, official data showed on Friday, as a slowdown in the world’s second-biggest economy continues to weigh on demand for the metal.

Arrivals of unwrought copper, including anode, refined and semi-finished copper products, were 326,000 tonnes last month, the General Administration of Customs said, down 9.7% from 361,000 tonnes in May and the lowest since February.

For the first half of 2019, unwrought imports were 2.27 million tonnes, down 12.5% from a year earlier, the data showed.

Factory activity in China, which is embroiled in a trade war with the United States, shrank more than expected in June in a bearish sign for the manufacturing sector that is a key source of copper demand.

Even a crackdown on imports of copper scrap that is expected to increase demand for other forms of the metal failed to keep unwrought imports buoyant.

“The demand is still weakening ... for most of the sectors, especially for air conditioning,” said He Tianyu, a copper analyst with CRU in Shanghai.

“The trade war could be one of the factors but actually the bigger problem is China’s domestic demand. This summer is weaker than last year,” he added.

Imports of copper concentrate, or partially processed copper ore, were 1.47 million tonnes in June, the lowest since December. That was down 20.1% from 1.84 million tonnes in May and down 16.5% from a year earlier.

However, for the first half of 2019 imports rose 10.5% from a year earlier to 10.55 million tonnes, reflecting growing smelter capacity in China.

The drop in concentrate imports came as smelters, including Tongling Nonferrous Metals Group, carried out maintenance in June, reducing demand for feedstock.

The copper concentrate market remains in deficit and has pushed down treatment and refining charges (TC/RCs), He said.

The charges, paid by miners to smelters to process concentrate into refined metal, are currently near 7-year lows.

Meanwhile, China’s June aluminium exports fell 5.6% from May and were down 0.8% from a year earlier.

The world’s top producer and consumer of the metal used in everything from cars to cans, last month exported 506,000 tonnes of unwrought aluminium, including primary metal, alloy and semi-finished products.

However, first-half 2019 exports rose 10% from a year earlier to 2.98 million tonnes.

Reporting by Tom Daly; editing by Christian Schmolligner and Darren Schuettler

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