December 21, 2015 / 6:51 AM / 4 years ago

Chinese importers book fewer 2016 term copper shipments on demand worries

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Some Chinese importers of refined copper have reduced bookings of term shipments for 2016, expecting lukewarm domestic demand and weak prices to continue, industry sources in China said.

An employee unloads copper at a factory in Nantong, Jiangsu province, June 18, 2011. REUTERS/China Daily

Term shipments of refined copper are likely to fall 20-30 percent in 2016, said one executive at a large trading firm in Shanghai, putting average monthly term imports next year at about 200,000 tonnes, down from 250,000 tonnes a month in 2015.

The drop in term volumes would likely cut refined copper stocks in China’s local market and bonded warehouses, and any unexpected demand surge could fuel higher premiums and prices in domestic <0#SCF:> and global markets, sources said.

Plans for the reduction of term shipments come despite suppliers cutting their premiums on top of the cash London Metal Exchange copper prices to overcome weak import demand.

“Our overall term bookings have fallen 40 percent,” said a manager for a large plant that uses refined metal to make rods and tubes, declining to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to media.

The manager said China’s policy to increase property sales would lift demand for copper to be used in power cables and home appliances such as air-conditioners, but that the rise in consumption would take months to be reflected in the market.

An executive at an international trading firm said his company’s clients were not keen to take term shipments for 2016, and that it had not booked refined copper from Chilean producer Codelco for China for the first time in years.

Expected higher interest rates in the United States also were dampening imports, as it made dollar-denominated financing deals for stocks in China’s bonded warehouses more expensive.

Still, some large Chinese importers are betting on prices to recover and have kept bookings for 2016 steady.

A trader at a large trading house, one of the firms that have not reduced term shipments for 2016, said the company believes copper prices have bottomed out and that China’s consumption should not worsen next year.

Many end users hold copper inventories just enough for 1-3 days of production, and any sudden orders to the plants could force them to buy spot metal, traders said.

Codelco, the world’s top refined copper producer, slashed its 2016 premium to China by more than a quarter to $98 per tonne, a three-year low.

Traders said Chinese importers had agreed to pay premiums of about $80-$105 for Japanese copper next year versus about $115 this year.

Spot premiums for bonded stocks in Shanghai were around $80 last week, according to traders.

Editing by Tom Hogue

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