UPDATE 2-China Feb refined copper output extends fall from record
* Feb output at 483,000 T and Jan 492,000 T, vs 580,000 T in Dec
* First two months' output still up 11.9 pct on year
* Aluminium hits record 1.78 mln T in Jan, Feb at 1.73 mln T (Adds aluminium output, forecast)
By Polly Yam
HONG KONG, March 12 (Reuters) - China's copper output dropped for a second straight month in February from record highs touched in December as smelter operations slowed for the Lunar New Year break.
Lower output by the world's top consumer and producer will help ease worries that China will import less refined copper for much of this year.
China's refined copper output in February dropped 1.8 percent to 483,000 tonnes, the lowest since mid-2012, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Tuesday. It produced 492,000 tonnes in January, after a record 580,000 tonnes in December.
"Smelters may have adjusted operation rates to cope with weaker demand and higher stocks in the domestic market," said Yang Xiaoguang, analyst at Jinrui Futures, a subsidiary of top refined copper producer Jiangxi Copper Corporation.
"The output in March should rise from the previous month but high stocks may continue to restrict smelters' production," said Yang, referring to bonded stocks that were estimated at around 910,000 tonnes in late February.
Yang expects output at around 500,000 tonnes for March, helped by plentiful stocks of raw material concentrates and a gradual rise in demand from factories.
China's refined copper output over the past two months rose 11.9 percent from a year ago due to higher capacity and record imports of concentrates.
The National Bureau of Statistics typically releases combined industrial output data for January and February to smooth out distortions caused by the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in February this year and in January last year.
China's imports of copper ores and concentrate reached a record 7.83 million tonnes in 2012 and inflows rose 26.7 percent on the year to 761,098 tonnes in January.
ALUMINIUM PRODUCTION DIPS FROM JAN RECORD
Aluminium output, where China is also the top consumer and producer, rose 15 percent to 3.51 million tonnes in the first two months. January output reached a record 1.78 million tonnes, the data showed.
Production dropped 2.8 percent to 1.73 million tonnes of primary aluminium in February, but was still up 11 percent from February 2012.
While the drop in output in February can be attributed to the Lunar New Year break and the short month, traders say some high-cost smelters have also been cutting production because record output has raised stocks, pushing down domestic prices AL-A00-CCNMM to the lowest since July 2010.
Smelters in central, southern and eastern China have idled about 500,000 tonnes a year of operational capacity in the past two months, Jinrui's Yang estimated.
State-backed research firm Antaike put the idle capacity at 300,000-400,000 tonnes since January, analyst Yao Xizhi said.
Stocks of aluminium ingots in four cites where many consumers of the metal are located -- Nanhai, Shanghai, Wuxi and Hangzhou -- reached a record 1.23 million tonnes last week, according to data from information provider SMM.
Spot aluminium traded at about 14,530 yuan ($2,300) a tonne on Tuesday, down 3.5 percent so far this year.
($1 = 6.2181 Chinese yuan) (Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Himani Sarkar)
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