* Magnet shipments to all countries at 4,646 tonnes in Jan-Feb
* Exports to US, Germany rise; those to South Korea, Japan drop
* Outbreak caused major disruption in China’s rare earth sector (Adds details on countries to which shipments fell)
By Tom Daly
BEIJING, March 25 (Reuters) - China’s rare earth magnet exports in the first two months of 2020 fell by 4.2% from a year earlier, according to Reuters calculations based on customs data, as the coronavirus outbreak hindered shipments overseas.
China is the world’s biggest producer of rare earth magnets, which are widely used in medical devices, consumer electronics and defence.
The country’s rare earths sector was severely disrupted due to the pandemic, with overall rare earth exports down 17.3% in January and February from a year earlier.
The General Administration of Customs said last month it would combine trade data for January and February instead of releasing it for individual months.
China’s magnet shipments to all countries came in at 4,646 tonnes for the first two months of the year, customs data showed on Wednesday, down from 4,852 tonnes a year earlier.
Exports to the United States were up 13% to 641.2 tonnes, while those to top market Germany rose 14.4% to 911.6 tonnes.
However, other key magnet markets saw falling purchases, with China’s shipments to South Korea slipping 12.6% to 372.9 tonnes, exports to Denmark down 22% at 274.1 tonnes and flows to Japan down 22.5% to 136.8 tonnes.
“Because importers of rare earths from China stocked up late last year ... they were inadvertently equipped to cope with the supply chain issues that hit China in January and February,” said Ryan Castilloux, managing director of consultancy Adamas Intelligence, in an email before the data was released.
“The biggest risk to the market now comes from the demand side, which we expect will be hit as the coronavirus epidemic expands in key demand markets, such as Europe and North America,” Castilloux added. (Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Tom Hogue, Christian Schmollinger and Shounak Dasgupta)