The price of copper regained its footing and iron ore prices continued the climb on Thursday after customs data showed imports of raw materials by China stayed robust in January after a strong 2017.
In brisk trading New York Comex copper for delivery in March were flat compared to Wednesday settlement price trading at $3.0855 a pound ($6,802 per tonne). Copper is still down sharply for the week after suffering its worst trading session of the year yesterday.
While down slightly from December (traditionally a high-import month when Chinese traders try to meet annual volume targets), January customs data from China showed import volumes of unwrought copper rose 16% compared to last year totalling 450,000 tonnes during the month. 2017’s annual total came in at 4.7m tonnes, down 5.7% from the year before.
The January jump in copper concentrate cargoes were even more impressive, increasing 25% from the same month last year to total 1.6m tonnes in January. China’s copper concentrate imports reached a record high in November of 1.78m and for the year reached a new record of 17.3m tonnes.
The increased volumes over 2017 are indicative of Beijing’s clampdown on copper scrap imports as part of the country’s crackdown on pollution and consolidation of heavy industries. A recent report by BMO Capital Markets forecasts that China’s scrap imports could halve in 2018 boosting concentrate cargoes to another all-time high this year.
China’s iron ore imports rose in January even as steel mills are idled as part of a government drive against pollution and stockpiles at ports reached new peaks above 150m tonnes.
China consumes more than two-thirds of the seaborne iron ore market and produces as much steel as the rest of the world combined.
Beijing’s winter war on smog has concentrated on the country’s steelmaking hubs near the capital where mandated cuts came into effect in October. Chinese steelmakers are increasingly seeking out high-quality imports over domestic ore in anticipation of restart of production in mid-March.
Imports of high-quality iron ore fines and lump ore from Australia, Brazil and South Africa jumped 19% from December to just above 100m tonnes last month. Cargoes reached a record high of 102.8m in September last year.
Total shipments for 2017 topped record imports in 2016 of just over 1 billion tonnes.
The Steel Index benchmark price for Northern China 62% Fe ore climbed for the fifth straight session on Friday to trade at $77.85 a tonne, up 7% since the beginning of the month as it continues to rally from lows in the $50s struck in June last year.