February 8, 2018 / 4:00 AM / 6 months ago

UPDATE 2-China Jan copper imports fall 2.2 pct, but scrap crackdown cushions drop

* Jan unwrought copper imports at 440,000 t

* Lowest level since Oct, but well above year ago

* Imports likely boosted by scrap crackdown - analyst

* Aluminium exports at 445,000 t, highest since June (Adds analyst comment, aluminium export figure)

By Tom Daly

BEIJING, Feb 8 (Reuters) - China’s unwrought copper imports fell for a second straight month in January as winter restrictions on the construction sector and high domestic production rates continued to crimp demand for metal from overseas.

Last month’s imports of unwrought copper, which includes anode, refined, and semi-finished copper products, stood at 440,000 tonnes, according to data from the General Administration of Customs on Thursday.

That is down 2.2 percent from December’s 450,000 tonnes to the lowest monthly level since October, but is still well above the 2017 average and 15.8 percent higher than the 380,000 tonnes imported a year ago.

Helen Lau, an analyst at Argonaut Securities in Hong Kong, said the still-high import levels could reflect China’s clampdown on copper scrap. Traders are now unable to import scrap copper if they cannot prove they are end-users, while the Ministry of Environmental Protection has tightened thresholds on impurities in foreign waste.

“Instead of importing scrap, China has turned to unwrought copper for downstream, so that may explain the relatively high number compared to last year,” Lau said.

December unwrought copper imports had fallen by 4.3 percent from November, the country needing less foreign metal in a month when its refined copper output hit a record 865,000 tonnes, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

The December production jump defied curbs imposed on the operations of northern Chinese smelters, which - like broad anti-smog measures in place in the north of the country - are due to be lifted on Mar. 15.

Meanwhile, China’s exports of unwrought aluminium and aluminium products rose for a third straight month in January, making the most of a favourable difference between the Shanghai Futures Exchange price and the London Metal Exchange price.

Exports stood at 445,000 tonnes, up 1.1 percent from December and up 14.1 percent from 390,000 tonnes a year ago, reaching their highest level since June.

Shanghai aluminium prices fell by 4.8 percent over January and closed at a one-year low of 14,175 yuan ($2,239.27) a tonne on Wednesday.

For more details, see ($1 = 6.3302 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Tom Hogue and Richard Pullin)

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