(Corrects 1Q 2012 aluminium premium figure in fifth paragraph to $112)
TOKYO Dec 12 Japanese buyers have agreed an aluminium premium of $240 per tonne with Rio Tinto Alcan for some January-March shipments, down from a record $254 to $255 PREM-ALUM-JP in the previous quarter, three sources directly involved in the talks said on Wednesday.
Rio Tinto Alcan offered premiums of $240 last month. The deal was lower than Alcoa's offer of $247 and BHP's $249, two of the sources said. Premiums are paid over the benchmark London Metal Exchange (LME) cash price to secure physical metal .
A fall in the fee for buyers in Japan, Asia's biggest importers of the metal, will be the first in more than a year, as the economy slips into recession, with exports falling and demand deteriorating in the domestic auto and electronics sectors.
"Some deals have settled at $240 with Rio. Others are still in talks," a source at a global aluminium producer said. "(Rio) seems selling quite well so far, better than what they had expected."
Aluminium premiums have more than doubled from this year's first quarter premiums of $112 mainly due to large stocks locked up by banks in financing deals, and behind long queues at warehouses, which make it difficult for manufacturers to access supplies.
Typically in such financial deals, traders buy physical metal and simultaneously sell forward at a profit, while striking a warehouse deal to store it cheaply in the interim.
High premiums and government subsidies have helped keep afloat many smelters that would otherwise have been forced to shut down due to a drop in global prices. (Writing by Melanie Burton in Singapore; Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Polly Yam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)