Chalco cool on raising alumina imports amid China shortages

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Aluminum Corp of China Ltd, known as Chalco, will only increase alumina imports if prices are low enough, an executive from the company’s trading unit said on Tuesday, even as shortages loom in northern China.

At least two alumina refineries have shut in Shanxi province amid an environmental dispute over red mud, a toxic byproduct of the alumina refining process, sparking fears of a supply shortfall. Alumina is used to make aluminum metal.

“We still need to look at the price. If the price is suitable we will import,” Li Guangfei, deputy general manager of China Aluminum International Trading Co, a Chalco trading arm, said on the sidelines of the Shanghai Derivatives Market Forum.

“At present the import price is not too suitable,” he added. Chalco had 18.86 million tonnes of annual alumina refining capacity in China at the end of 2018, including at plants in Shanxi, according to its annual report.

Spot prices for imported alumina in China have risen by 7.9% since May 13, when media reports were released about the Shanxi closures, to 3,140 yuan ($454.30) a tonne, the highest since December.

China’s alumina imports doubled in March to 60,000 tonnes, according to customs data, and traders expect imports to rise further in May and June due to the plant closures in Shanxi.

One London-based alumina trader said he was getting more enquiries for shipments to China. “Supply is squeezed,” he said.

Jiang Yan, chairman of the Shanghai Futures Exchange, earlier reiterated at the forum that the bourse is preparing to launch alumina futures this year.

Reporting by Meng Meng and Tom Daly; editing by Christian Schmollinger