China August commodity imports remain under pressure
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's imports of key commodities such as crude oil and soy hit multi-month lows in August on weak domestic demand, even though iron ore imports managed to gain, as hopes grew for stimulus measures to boost the world's second-biggest economy.
Imports of crude oil hit a 22-month low and copper and soy shipments also fell, reflecting weaknesses in industrial demand and the travails facing the export sector, but iron ore imports saw a monthly rise of 7 percent, preliminary customs data showed.
The increase in iron ore imports followed a collapse in global prices of the steelmaking raw material, analysts said, but with inventories still high, imports were expected to decline over the rest of the year.
"We think iron ore prices are still under downside pressure and we maintain our view that in the coming months, iron ore imports will come down to around 30-40 million tonnes," said Helen Lau at UOB-Kay Hian in Hong Kong.
The world's second-largest oil consumer and biggest buyer of coal, copper and iron ore saw imports slip 2.6 percent in August on the year, while overall exports rose just 2.7 percent from a year earlier, lower than expected.
Crude oil imports declined dramatically in August, dropping 15.7 percent from a month earlier to hit 4.33 million barrels a day, the lowest daily rate since October 2010.
Implied oil demand also dipped 0.8 percent year on year to a 22-month low of 8.92 million barrels per day, Reuters calculations showed.
Copper deliveries fell 2.9 percent compared to July after large numbers of Chinese buyers refrained from placing orders over the month with downstream demand still weak.
"There is the potential for improvement in the September numbers as you're moving to national holiday week in October, so consumers will want to have some metal on hand ahead of that," said Nick Trevethan, senior commodities strategist with ANZ.
Soy imports were also at their lowest in six months, with record-high prices and a fall in supplies reducing demand from the world's biggest importer.
The sector is now digesting its stockpiles and analysts expect import volumes to fall still further in September.
RECOVERY IN SIGHT?
Although August's imports of iron ore reached 62.45 million tonnes, up 7 percent from July, this reflected a collapse in global prices and a decline in domestic output rather than any underlying improvement in demand, analysts said.
"It's really all about domestic ore being too expensive, with mills switching to cheaper imported ore bought on spot," said Sebastian Lewis, head of analytics with Steel Business Briefing in Shanghai.
A collapse in prices since June has made it impossible for low-grade domestic producers to compete with cheaper imports, while Chinese buyers have also deferred costly contract deliveries and turned to the spot market instead.
Monday's weak data could help reinforce hopes that China is bottoming out, particularly if there is the prospect of a stimulus-led recovery in sight. Beijing has already announced a new package of infrastructure investments worth more than $150 billion in a bid to stimulate growth.
"We are at the bottom so there's no place to go but up," said Jeremy Friesen, commodity strategist with Society Generale.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Judy Hua and Niu Shuping in BEIJING, Polly Yam in HONG KONG, Melanie Burton and Manolo Serapio Jr. in SINGAPORE; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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