SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China’s iron ore imports in February fell 16 percent from the previous month, customs data showed on Thursday, as the nation’s week-long Lunar New Year holiday slowed shipments of the steelmaking raw material to the world’s top buyer.
Arrivals fell to 84.27 million tonnes last month, according to General Administration of Customs data, down from January’s 100.34 million tonnes, the second-highest level on record.
Imports for the first two months rose 5.4 percent to 184.74 million tonnes from a year ago, the data showed. February imports rose 0.9 percent from the same month last year.
Appetite from Chinese steel mills slowed this past winter as mills cut production to meet government-mandated curbs aimed at improving air quality, while the Lunar New Year break in mid-February curbed industrial demand.
“More appropriately we can just take the January and February data together (given the holiday) and the average is around 90 to 95 million tonnes per month and that’s still very strong,” said Wang Di, an analyst with CRU in Beijing.
Wang expected imports to stay high over the next couple of months given seasonal demand recovery in March and April.
China’s iron ore imports in 2017 rose 5 percent to a record 1.075 billion tonnes, exceeding 1 billion tonnes for a second straight year.
Chinese steel exports rose 4 percent to 4.85 million tonnes in February from the previous month, but fell 16 percent from a year ago, customs data also showed.
China exported 4.65 million tonnes of steel products in January, the lowest since February 2013. Year-to-date exports tumbled 27 percent at 9.5 million tonnes.
“In the last six months you can see that Chinese exports have been at around 4.5 million tonnes a month, which is quite a low level compared to the exports we’ve seen in recent years,” said Daniel Meng, analyst at CLSA in Hong Kong, noting that it shows the tightness of the local market.
“As long as China’s domestic market remains tight, exports would remain slow,” he said.
China imported 1.03 million tonnes of steel products in February, down 14 percent from a month ago and 6 percent from last year, the data showed. Total January-February imports rose 1.6 percent to 2.218 million tonnes from a year ago.
Reporting by Ruby Lian in SHANGHAI and Manolo Serapio Jr in MANILA; Editing by Christian Schmollinger