(Corrects paragraph 8 to make clear that aluminium output was 2.56 mln T)
* China copper output at 636,351 T in March
* Aluminium marks record 2.56 mln tonnes
* Lead, tin production down year-on-year due to low prices
By Polly Yam
HONG KONG, April 17 (Reuters) - Chinese production of refined copper rose 9.7 percent from a year ago in March as smelters expanded capacity amid an increase in supply of raw material.
China churned out 636,351 tonnes of refined copper in March, down from a record 832,618 tonnes in December 2014, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Friday.
The bureau last month said January-February production was 1.2 million tonnes, but did not give monthly breakdowns. In the first quarter, output increased 14.3 percent year-on-year to 1.85 million tonnes.
March output was likely higher than February when the Lunar New Year holidays slowed operations at smelters, said Yang Changhua, senior analyst at state-backed research firm Antaike.
“March output was higher mainly because of expanded capacity. We expect output to rise in April from March,” Yang said.
Industry sources have estimated at least 300,000 tonnes of annual capacity would start production this year.
Record imports of raw material copper concentrate in March also supported metal production.
Meanwhile, production of primary aluminium reached a record 2.56 million tonnes in March, up from the previous high of 2.18 million tonnes hit in December 2014. Output rose 8 percent year-on-year.
In the first quarter, aluminium production climbed 7.5 percent on-year to 7.51 million tonnes.
China Merchants Futures has estimated China will add 4.3 million tonnes of annual aluminium capacity this year, with the bulk in the first and fourth quarters.
Steady prices supported production at smelters. Spot metal prices in China rose AL-A00-CCNMM nearly 3 percent in March.
Production of refined nickel climbed 18.4 percent on-year to 28,320 tonnes in March. Output in the first quarter surged 27 percent from the year before to 81,870 tonnes.
Some nickel producers face output cuts in the near term due to low prices and weak domestic demand.
Refined tin output fell 10.6 percent from the year before to 13,250 tonnes in March due to weak prices. In the first quarter, production dropped 2.9 percent on-year to 39,297 tonnes, despite strong imports of tin ores and concentrates.
Chinese tin prices SN-1-CCNMM dropped nearly 5 percent in March. The price stood at 113,000 yuan ($18,240) on Friday, the weakest since mid-2009.
Tin output may slow in April after a large producer started some maintenance in mid-April that will last a month, traders said.
Multi-year lows in prices PB-1-CCNMM also weighed on refined lead production, pushing it down 7.9 percent on-year to 340,202 tonnes in March. Output dropped 6.6 percent to 987,868 tonnes in the first quarter.
Refined zinc production climbed 10.4 percent on-year to 491,042 tonnes in March, and was up 14.6 percent to 1.46 million tonnes in January-March. ($1 = 6.1947 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Reporting by Polly Yam; Editing by Joseph Radford)