June 8, 2018 / 4:57 AM / a year ago

China May coal imports flat as government controls stifle buying

FILE PHOTO: Excavators transport coal at a railway station in Yuncheng, Shanxi province, China January 25, 2017. Picture taken January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s coal imports in May were almost unchanged from the same month a year earlier as tight government curbs on shipments, designed to cool an overheating market, kept a lid on foreign coal buying.

Coal arrivals in May inched up to 22.33 million tonnes from 22.28 million tonnes in April, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Friday - less than 1 percent up from May 2017.

For the first five months of 2018, coal imports were up 8.2 percent at 120.73 million tonnes, customs data showed.

The slowdown came as Beijing intervened to calm the red-hot coal market as prices surged, adopting tight controls on imports, two traders said.

“May imports would be much higher...if the government had not imposed tight scrutiny on imports,” a Guangzhou-based coal trader said. “Demand is good in May.”

Spot prices for Australian coal delivery from the Newcastle terminal GCLNWCPFBMc1 rose more than 12 percent in May, and climbed to a six-year high of $115.25 per ton on Friday.

Weaker-than-expected imports also raised concerns on coal supplies as power producers aimed to shore up inventory ahead of the peak demand season which runs from June to August.

Shandong province and Guangdong province, two of China’s main industrial provinces, have said they face potential power shortages in coming months, due partly to weak hydro power output.

Two major Chinese coal-fired power generator have asked the state planner to help relax coal import controls in May anticipating rising demand.

Reporting by Meng Meng and Aizhu Chen; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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