* First yr-on-yr rise in three months
* Third-lowest shipment level for May in 35 yrs
* Exports fell 2 pct as overseas demand slowed (Adds details, graphic)
TOKYO, June 20 (Reuters) - Japanese copper wire and cable shipments inched up for the first time in three months in May but the level stayed at the third-lowest for the month in 35 years as exports declined in the wake of a slowdown in the Chinese economy, an industry body said on Monday.
May shipments totalled an estimated 51,200 tonnes, down from revised April shipments of 56,172 tonnes, data from the Japanese Electric Wire and Cable Makers’ Association showed.
It was the first year-on-year gain since the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis stalled manufacturing output in Japan, halving March car output.
The shipment level was the third-lowest for the month of May in the past 35 years, after 49,708 tonnes in May 2010 and 44,767 tonnes in May 2009, the industry body said.
Demand for copper, used in a wide range of products from utensils and construction materials to computer chips, is often seen as a gauge of economic activity.
Exports of copper wire and cables fell 2 percent in May from a year earlier to 1,700 tonnes, reflecting a slowdown in demand in emerging markets, notably China.
In the domestic market, demand from the telecoms sector jumped 48.3 percent to 1,000 tonnes, while that from the construction sector rose 17.5 percent to 21,500 tonnes as the government hurried to build more than 30,000 temporary houses for those made homeless by the March 11 disaster.
Shipments for the automobile industry were 21.2 percent lower than a year earlier at 4,200 tonnes but marked an improvement from 3,100 tonnes in April, when the sector was forced to halve car output due to a shortage of parts.
Japan’s total exports fell in May at a faster pace than expected from a year earlier, raising concerns that weakness in overseas demand could constrain factory production and delay recovery from the March disaster.
China’s imports of unwrought copper and semi-finished copper products fell 3 percent in May from April because of high stocks, but traders said extra orders placed in May will raise June shipments. (Reporting by Yuko Inoue; Editing by Michael Watson)