* January refined copper imports hit 397,459 tonnes
* Lunar New Year holiday spurred importers to bring forward shipments (Adds detail)
By Polly Yam
HONG KONG, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Chinese imports of refined copper surged around a quarter in January from the month before to their second-highest on record, as buyers brought shipments due to the Lunar New Year in February and with investors increasing spot purchases as a financing tool.
Customs data on Friday showed that the world’s top consumer and producer of refined copper imported 397,459 tonnes of refined metal in January, compared to a record 406,937 tonnes in December 2011.
January imports rose 63.5 percent from a year ago and beat forecasts by traders and analysts who had anticipated lower arrivals in January as many factories close from the middle of that month due to the Lunar New Year holidays.
But the holiday had prompted importers to bring forward some shipments originally due to arrive in February, traders said.
“Our imports in January were 7,000-8,000 tonnes more than February,” said a source at a large factory which uses refined copper to manufacture semi-finished copper products. He added that China’s imports should fall in February due to the holiday.
Traders said a severe cash crunch in China also prompted investors to increase bookings of spot copper in late 2013 as a financing tool to raise funds for other investments, with that copper arriving in January.
Some imports in January may have been shipped to China’s national commodity buyer, the State Reserves Bureau. Two sources said the state body had finalised a plan to import 300,000 tonnes of refined copper and that the shipments should have started in January 2014.
Exports of refined copper stood at 25,935 tonnes in January versus 25,092 tonnes in the previous month. Exports inched down 1.07 percent from year ago.
Investor imports also boosted arrivals of refined zinc to 90,548 tonnes in January, up 48 percent from December 2013 and a rise of 80.8 percent from the corresponding month in 2013, the data showed.
Primary aluminium imports fell to 54,878 tonnes in January, down 27.9 percent from the previous month. But the imports still surged 214.7 percent from the corresponding month in 2013 due to low domestic prices.
Primary aluminium exports were at 9,557 tonnes in January 2014, down from 23,741 tonnes in December 2013. (Reporting by Polly Yam; Editing by Ed Davies and Joseph Radford)