BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s iron ore imports edged up in in August as soaring steel prices increased appetite for high-grade foreign ore in the world’s biggest steel producer.
Iron ore shipments reached 88.66 million tonnes last month, up 1.1 percent from a year ago and up 2.8 percent from July, according to data from the General Administration of Customs on Friday.
Imports over the first eight months are up nearly 7 percent as Chinese mills ramped up output to take advantage of improved margins amid a government crackdown on low-tech steel products. This led to bigger orders for raw materials, particular high-grade iron ore.
“Imports will remain high as steel production is still relatively strong, and China’s winter production cuts won’t come until mid-November,” said Helen Lau, analyst at Agronauts Securities in Hong Kong.
“Domestic iron ore production in China also continues to be under pressure because of the environmental protection measures which prevent them from expanding,” she said.
Beijing has pledged to meet its politically crucial air quality targets by shutting as much as half of the steel capacity in some northern cities this winter, including the top steel producing city of Tangshang.
Shanghai benchmark steel rebar futures rose 8.5 percent in August.
Some mills even postponed proposed maintaince schedules to cash in on the strong margins, traders said.
Stockpiles of imported iron ore at China’s major ports in August fell to the lowest level since early May at 133.45 million tonnes.
Iron ore prices, meanwhile, gained more than 5.5 percent last month and touched a five-month-peak at 609.5 yuan ($94.46) a tonne in late August.
($1 = 6.4525 Chinese yuan renminbi)
Reporting by Muyu Xu and Beijing Newsroom; Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio in MANILA; Editing by Richard Pullin