(This is a repeat of an item issued on Saturday)
* Crude oil imports second highest on record
* Copper at 20-mth high, iron ore highest since Feb
* Figures skewed by Oct National Day holiday
By David Stanway
BEIJING, Dec 10 (Reuters) - China’s imports of crude oil, copper, soybeans and iron ore all surged in November, prompted by lower global prices and domestic shortages ahead of winter, official customs data showed on Saturday.
The double-digit monthly increases in major commodity imports came as overall growth in foreign trade continued to slow.
China’s exports expanded 13.8 percent year on year in November, the lowest in nine months, evidence of faltering demand abroad.
But traders said that while market signals were partly responsible for the strong showing in commodities, the extent of the increases could be a little misleading.
Following the week-long National Day holiday at the beginning of October, customs officials normally struggle to keep up with deliveries, prompting them to include earlier cargoes in their November calculations.
Crude oil imports rose 9 percent from October to 22.96 million tonnes. It was the second highest volume on record when calculated on a daily basis, hitting 5.52 million barrels per day, just short of an all-time high of 5.67 million bpd in September 2010.
“The high refinery runs means you need that amount of crude imports. It’s also to compensate for the loss of Penglai oilfield,” said a Beijing-based oil trader.
China’s refinery throughput surged to a record 9.22 million barrels per day over November, 5.5 percent higher than October, as big refiners responded to growing diesel shortages as temperatures plunge.
The country’s largest offshore oilfield, the Penglai 19.3, was ordered to close in September following a 5,500 square-kilometre oil spill.
Seasonal factors were also responsible for the 49.6 percent increase in soybean imports in November.
The 5.7 million tonne total import volume was broadly in line with expectations and reflected an improvement in crushing margins as well as an increase in demand ahead of China’s Lunar New Year holiday in January.
Copper imports were up for the sixth straight month, rising 17.9 percent to 452,022 tonnes and hitting their highest level since March 2010.
Buyers have been encouraged by relatively low prices and a domestic shortage of copper scrap brought about by tightened customs rules. Foreign traders have also been diverting cargoes to China in order to take advantage of strong premiums.
Benchmark three-month London Metal Exchange copper prices stood between $7,200 and $8,000 per tonne over November, down from more than $10,000 in February.
Imports of copper in October stood at 383,507 tonnes, lower than most analysts had expected, suggesting that some October deliveries had been included in the November figures.
Refined copper production has also been weak, falling 4.5 percent month-on-month in November, as smelters scheduled overhauls in order to shield themselves from scrap shortages, falling domestic prices and weakening demand going into December.
With stockpiles dwindling, China’s steel mills also raced back to the iron ore market, pushing imports up to 28.6 percent compared to October to reach a 10-month high of 64.2 million tonnes.
Exports in October were at their lowest since February, with traders and steel mills staying away from the market amid uncertainties about demand, which has been falling sharply since the end of September.
With no one daring to buy, iron ore prices entered their most protracted slump in years from September, shedding $50 per tonne to end October at $117.
Steel production remained relatively low in November, but were persuaded back to the market to replenish their dwindling inventories, and traders suggest the recovery is likely to be short-lived.
“While mills had to replenish their stocks in November I‘m still not optimistic about December as operations slow for the winter -- we can only hope things will improve next year,” said a trader based in the east China port city of Rizhao.
Additional reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani