CORRECTED-China oil, iron ore imports point to demand revival

Mon Dec 10, 2012 9:43am EST

(Corrects bullet points, first paragraph to remove reference to
crude oil imports being the second highest on record. They were
at their joint third highest daily rate.)
    * Iron ore shipments 2nd highest on record in Nov
    * Daily crude imports joint 3rd highest on record
    * Copper shipments up, but underlying demand seen weak
    * Week-long October holiday distorts monthly growth rates
    * Weak margins discouraging soy imports despite November
rise

    By David Stanway
    BEIJING, Dec 10 (Reuters) - China's imports of iron ore were
the second highest on record in November, while crude oil
imports were at their joint third highest daily rate, providing
encouraging signals on demand for commodities in the world's
second-largest economy.
    The strength in consumption in Monday's customs data, came
despite disappointing overall foreign trade data, showing
overall imports were flat in November and exports rose just 2.9
percent. 
    Iron ore imports rose 17 percent from October to 65.78
million tonnes, while crude imports were up 3 percent on the
month to 5.69 million barrels per day (bpd).
    "It does appear, based on the evidence of the data, that the
Chinese economy has bottomed out," said Ben Le Brun, market
analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney.
     "Being the world's second-largest oil consumer, indications
of a sustained recovery in China's economy will be supportive
for oil prices."
    
     
   
    OCTOBER HOLIDAY DELAYS SHIPMENTS 
    Copper imports in November also soared 13.5 percent on the
month to 365,331 tonnes, but analysts were cautious, saying the
data owed more to anomalies than to any increase in underlying
demand.
    "This year's increase in copper imports does not correspond
to economic growth," said Dominic Schnider, head of commodity
research at UBS Wealth Management. "We have the inventory
buildup in China while Chinese acceleration in economic growth
next year is going to be modest at best."
    Part of the reason for some commodity imports showing a
rebound in November was China's week-long National Day holiday
beginning Oct. 1, which delayed shipments until last month. 
    "Due to the week-long holiday in the beginning of October,
some people didn't import much (copper) in that month, that's
why you see a rise in November imports," said Zhou Jie, analyst
with CIFCO Futures in Shanghai. "Consumption of the physical
metal is still quite bad, and stockpiles are still very high."
    Imports of anode, refined copper, alloy and semi-finished
copper products dropped 18.5 percent month-on-month in October
to 321,879 tonnes, and despite the November recovery, imports
remain 19.2 percent lower than the same month of last year.   
    Iron ore shipments were also likely to have been disrupted
by the holiday, with cargoes declining 13.2 percent in October.
    
    MARGINS
    Soy shipments gained 3.2 percent to 4.16 million tonnes
after crashing 18.9 percent in October, with margins and demand
improving ahead of the peak demand period before Chinese new
year in February.
    Soybean imports had tumbled in October not just because of
the holiday but also on a decline in shipments from
drought-affected South America and poor crushing margins at
home. 
    November imports, while up, did not recover to September
levels, with margins last month still mostly negative. Rising
demand is widely expected to improve the economics of importing
soy in December and January, but supplies are tightening.
    For copper, analysts said demand was still weak and the
ratios between domestic and LME prices remained unattractive,
making a further import increase in December unlikely.  
    Some oil traders also warned that refining margins should be
monitored to check on the underlying health of the economy.  
    "The key factors to watch out for is: if refineries are
making money, and, if fuel stocks are quietly piling up as sales
may not match the increases in new production," said a trading
manager with CNOOC. 

 (Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu, Manash Goswami, Melanie
Burton, Colin Packham, Rujun Shen, Polly Yam and Manolo Serapio
Jr.; Editing by Ed Davies and Anthony Barker)
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