UPDATE 1-China July coal imports rebound; Australia top gainer
* China July coal imports up more than a quarter from June
* Australia shipments lead way with 73 pct gain on month
* Imports of Indonesia coal up 24 pct from June
SHANGHAI, Aug 21 (Reuters) - China's coal imports, excluding lignite, rose 26 percent in July from the previous month after two months of falls in shipments, as a drop in overseas prices led end-users to ramp up orders of Australian coal and restock for peak summer demand.
Robust steel production has also led mills to import more coking coal, which jumped 25 percent from the preceding month to 5.88 million tonnes.
China's imports in July, excluding lignite, were at 22.77 million tonnes, compared with 18.04 million tonnes in June, customs data showed on Wednesday. Total shipments in the first seven months were up 13.7 percent from last year.
The strength in July imports, which came after June shipments fell to an eight-month low, was a surprise to market participants, as falling domestic prices had narrowed the price advantage of overseas supplies.
Analysts said the jump in the July shipments was in part buoyed by a slump in regional coal prices, which saw the benchmark globalCOAL Newcastle index drop $10 within a month to about $77 a tonne, its lowest since June 2009.
"It was a lot of opportunistic buying and end-users were taking the opportunity to restock for the peak summer consumption season," said Li Ting, a coal analyst with Chang An Energy Research.
Traders said buoyant steel production also drove up imports of coking coal.
China's daily crude steel output averaged 2.14 million tonnes in the first 10 days of August, up almost 3 percent from the previous 10-day period, according to industry group China Iron and Steel Association.
The jump in imports was largely led by Australian coal, which rose by 3.59 million tonnes to 8.52 million tonnes, accounting for nearly three-quarter of the total volume increase.
Imports from Indonesia rose about 1 million tonnes to 5.27 million in July, as Chinese buyers boosted orders of its low-grade coal for blending with Australian or local supplies, trade sources said.
Chinese demand for thermal coal imports, however, is expected to be pressured as domestic prices continue to fall.
Chinese coal prices, which have fallen 17 percent this year, hit a four-year low of 559 yuan ($91.30) last week. Traders said the spread between bid and offers for overseas coal have widened to about $2 a tonne.
(Reporting by Fayen Wong; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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