* Copper imports up 21 pct from April low, soy up 28.1 pct
* Crude shipments inch up, iron ore third highest on record
* Overall import, export figures disappoint
By David Stanway
BEIJING, June 8 China's imports of major
commodities all rose in May, even as overall imports weakened,
as favourable price movements and an easing of port congestion
conspired to boost inward shipments of everything from copper to
Copper imports rose 21 percent from a nearly two-year low in
April as delayed shipments from Chile arrived and buyers took
advantage of higher prices at home than on the world market,
China's General Administration of Customs said on Saturday.
Soybean imports soared 28.1 percent following the easing of
congestion at Brazilian ports.
Customs said crude oil imports inched up by 0.4 percent to
5.64 barrels per day (bpd) in May, with a number of refineries
completing overhauls, while iron ore shipments rose 2.1 percent
to reach 68.56 million tonnes, the third-highest ever.
Analysts said the May import data suggested China's economy
remained generally resilient, despite a slowdown in growth.
"Individual market players feel it is bad because of low
utilisation rates and loss of market share," said Graeme Train,
analyst with Macquarie in Shanghai, speaking about China's steel
mills, which import two-thirds of global seaborne iron ore.
"But when you look at the aggregate from a demand point of
view, it is actually pretty impressive - massive run rates and
also record levels of trader destocking in the last few months."
However, overall trade data released on Saturday show there
are still reasons to be concerned about the pace of growth in
the world's second-largest economy.
Exports in May rose by just 1 percent on the year, far lower
than a Reuters poll forecast of 7.3 percent. Imports dipped 0.3
percent on the year, against a forecast of 6 percent growth.
China, the world's largest crude buyer after the United
States, shipped in 23.95 million tonnes of crude last month,
inching up 0.4 percent on a daily basis but down 6 percent from
a record high 6.0 million barrels per day in May last year.
According to industry consultancy ICIS C1, crude oil and
fuel oil processed by Chinese refineries, including independent
refineries, rose 4.6 percent in May from April, with a number of
units restarting operations after April overhauls.
Meanwhile, ChemChina, owner of China's largest chain of
standalone refineries and recipient of a crude import quota this
year, also bought 4 million barrels of crude oil for delivery in
China imported 68.56 million tonnes of iron ore in May, up
2.1 percent from April and the third highest on record, data
from customs showed on Saturday, with local steel mills still
running at close to record rates. Year-to-date imports reached
322 million tonnes, up 4.7 percent from a year earlier.
The increase was driven primarily by Chinese steel
production, with daily runs hitting a record 2.193 million
tonnes in the first 10 days of May and tailing off only slightly
over the remainder of the month.
Despite weak prices and mounting losses, mills prefer to run
at full speed and try to undercut their competitors in order to
cling on to market share, rather than risk slashing output.
Global benchmark iron ore prices .IO62-CNI=SI also fell
nearly 18 percent in May, encouraging many Chinese buyers to
replenish their inventories, which had previously been kept
deliberately low. Few expect any significant price recovery in
June, with global supplies set to increase.
China's arrivals of anode, refined copper, alloy and
semi-finished copper products reached 358,672 tonnes in May. The
295,799-tonne April volume was the lowest since June 2011.
Port strikes in Chile delayed many April term shipments of
refined copper to May and June. Importers also sought to import
spot refined copper in May due to improved price differentials
between the domestic market and the London Metal Exchange as
stocks in Shanghai's bonded warehouses declined.
"Arrivals of delayed shipments from Chile is one of the
reasons. Price differentials were very good in May and that
should be reflected in May's imports," Yang Xiaoguang, an
analyst at Jinrui Futures, said before the release of the data.
China imported 5.1 million tonnes of soybeans in May, up
from 3.98 million tonnes in April. Port congestion has delayed
shipments from Brazil, the world's second-largest exporter,
Traders and China's commerce ministry all expect June
imports to reach a record high and could even exceed 7 million
tonnes. The large import volumes will hurt crushing margins, and
may trigger more cancellations by crushers in China,
particularly after the country's chicken restocking was hurt by
a bird flu outbreak early in the year.
Imports in the first five months fell 12.2 percent on the
year to 23.43 million tonnes, customs data showed.
(Reporting by Judy Hua and Niu Shuping in BEIJING, Ruby Lian in
SHANGHAI and Polly Yam in HONG KONG; Editing by Mark Bendeich)