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* March iron ore imports rise 15 percent on year
* Traders and mills take cargoes amid sharp fall in prices
* First-quarter iron ore imports jump 19 pct on year
By Ruby Lian and Fayen Wong
SHANGHAI, April 10 (Reuters) - China’s iron ore imports rebounded in March from a 13-month low hit the previous month, customs data showed on Thursday, boosted by rising steel production, increasing supplies of overseas iron ore and a drop in prices.
The world’s largest iron ore consumer increased imports of the steelmaking raw material to 73.96 million tonnes, up 21 percent from 61.24 million tonnes in February, the lowest since February 2013, data showed. Imports were nearly 15 percent higher than a year ago, according to Reuters’ calculations.
First-quarter imports surged 19.4 percent to 222 million tonnes from the same period of last year. Shipments hit a record high of 86.82 million tonnes in January, as steelmakers anticipated a pick-up in demand after the new year.
Traders and mills snapped up cargoes last month after prices .IO62-CNI=SI fell to $104.70 in mid-March, the lowest since October 2012.
Expected seasonal demand growth has also encouraged mills to raise production modestly since late February, boosting appetite for the raw material.
“This is taking advantage of lower prices, a chance to restock at good levels and the China story continues,” said Jonathan Barratt, head of Barratts’ Bulletin in Sydney. “I think the desired effect that they had was to see prices lower so they could scoop up.”
Global miners such as Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have been forging ahead with expansion plans, despite a slowing Chinese economy, and boosted shipments of the commodity to their biggest customer.
Iron ore exports to China from Australia’s Port Hedland, which accounts for about a fifth of the globally traded market, jumped 27 percent in March from February to 27 million tonnes. (Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr in SINGAPORE; Editing by Richard Pullin)