May 7, 2020 / 4:33 AM / 18 days ago

UPDATE 2-China April copper imports rise as demand recovers; aluminium exports slump

* China April unwrought copper imports at 461,458 T, up 4.4% m/m

* Copper concentrate imports top 2 mln T as smelters ramp up

* Aluminium exports down 15% m/m at 441,177 T, lowest since Oct (Adds official April unwrought copper imports number, data for copper concentrate imports and aluminium exports)

By Tom Daly

BEIJING, May 7 (Reuters) - China’s unwrought copper imports rose in April from the prior month as the country continues to recover from the coronavirus outbreak, while aluminium exports saw their lowest monthly total since October on dwindling orders from overseas.

Imports of unwrought copper, including anode, refined and semi-finished copper products into China, the world’s top copper consumer, came in at 461,457.5 tonnes last month, the General Administration of Customs said on Thursday.

That was up 4.4% from 441,926 tonnes in March this year and up 13.9% from April last year. January-April imports of 1.748 million tonnes were up 10.4% year-on-year, customs said.

Reuters reported a slightly lower copper import number earlier for April based on January-April figures released in a customs statement and data from previous months. In official data, China’s customs department gave a higher figure for imports for the month and for the January to April period.

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector, a key source of copper demand, expanded for a second straight month in April as more businesses resumed work from coronavirus-led shutdowns, although growth was marginal, according to an official survey.

Prices were also a factor behind the copper import gain.

London Metal Exchange copper prices plunged 12% in March to four-year lows, opening up an arbitrage to higher Shanghai prices that led to greater arrivals of foreign metal in April as well as a sharp drawdown on refined copper inventories in China’s bonded warehouses SMM-CUR-BON.

“Copper inventories are going down and China is importing a little bit more as it closes the gap left by the coronavirus,” said Helen Lau, an analyst at Argonaut Securities in Hong Kong. She noted, however, that the spread of the pandemic around the world would put China’s supply chains at risk.

“Smelting facilities in South America and Africa will be affected by the pandemic, so certainly I think going forward, demand in China will continue to improve but there will be some supply risk for unwrought copper as well as for concentrate,” she said.

Imports of copper concentrate, used to make refined copper, came in at 2.029 million tonnes in April, passing the 2 million tonnes mark for only the third time.

That was up 14.1% from the previous month, which had seen the lowest monthly import total since September 2019, and up 22.5% year-on-year as logistical constraints eased and smelters were able to take more cargoes as they ramped up operations.

Aluminium exports, meanwhile, fell a hefty 14.9% from March to 441,177.1 tonnes, as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic crushed orders for Chinese metal in overseas markets.

The total, which includes including primary aluminium, alloy and semi-finished products, was down 11.4% from a year earlier. (Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Kim COghill and Tom Hogue)

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