* Iron ore imports defy analyst expectations to rise 18 pct
* Surge reflected in rapid increase in port stockpiles
* Import increase not reflected by underlying demand
(Adds analyst quotes, details of data)
BEIJING, Feb 12 China's imports of iron ore
surged to a record 86.84 million tonnes in January, defying
analysts' expectations to rise more than 18 percent from the
previous month, data from China's customs authority showed on
The figure was also a third higher than the same period of
last year and exceeded the previous record set in November by
Analysts expected shipments to China, the world's biggest
iron ore consumer, to have fallen over January, with prices
declining to a six-month low in the month amid growing
uncertainty about demand in the country's steel sector.
The big increase is unlikely to have been driven by
underlying demand from the country's massive steel sector, which
has been struggling with weak demand, a lack of credit and a
drive by Beijing to clean up the environment.
"These figures are certainly higher than we previously
expected - not all of these commodities will have been consumed
by downstream industry and this is reflected in the very high
inventories of iron ore at Chinese ports, which are at their
highest level since September 2012," said Judy Zhu, metals
analyst with Standard Chartered Bank in Shanghai.
Iron ore stocks at major Chinese ports SH-TOT-IRONINV
currently stand at 97.25 million tonnes and have risen 23
percent since late October.
Crude steel output inched up to 2.007 million tonnes a day
in mid-January, the last figures available from the China Iron
and Steel Association, but it remains substantially lower than
the record of nearly 2.2 million tonnes set last May.
Zhu said imports could see a sharp decline in February.
"This is a terrible number because it would mean importers,
mostly traders, might now slow down their buying activity on the
international market which might be translated into negative
pressure on prices, as we have seen over the last week or so."
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Richard Pullin and