M. Stanley slashes metals outlook on 'dormant' China

China's copper imports in February totalled 280,000 tonnes, down by nearly a third from January and the worst drop since 2011.

Customs data also showed imports of iron ore dropped 13.5% to just under 68 million tonnes in February although compared to a year ago there was a gain of 11%.

Coal imports tumbled 9% at 15.26 million tonnes and is down by a third year-on-year.

While seasonal factors played a role in the magnitude of the declines, the "new normal" of slower growth rates in China will continue to put downward pressure on commodity prices says Morgan Stanley in a new research report.

Bloomberg Business reports the investment bank has slashed its forecast across a range of metals and minerals with nickel estimates taking the worst drubbing:

“With only months left before the mid-year peak in sales of commodity-intensive goods, time is running out for China to support commodity prices in 2015,” the Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in the report. "Instead of delivering its reliable first-quarter seasonal expansion in trade, China’s metal processing industry remains dormant.”

Morgan Stanley new forecast for the nickel price is 19% below its previous estimates for the year at $16,094 a tonne, which is still sharply higher than today's ruling price of $14,175.

The bank cut its 2016 outlook for copper by 14% to $6,283 a tonne on the back of a global copper surplus of some 230,000 tonnes, compared with a balanced market last year.

Copper held onto its recent gains trading at a three-month high above $6,000 on Tuesday despite news of operations at the Grasberg mine in Indonesia returning to normal after a 5-day blockade by workers that lifted the price.

The bank's 2015 forecast for iron ore was brought into line with the ruling price in the mid-$50s. Morgan Stanley now believes the price of the steelmaking material will average $57 a tonne in 2015 before recovering to $65 a tonne next year and $71 in 2017.

Both those estimates were below previous forecasts thanks to seaborne supply exceeding demand by 129.3 million tonnes in 2017 from an estimated 55 million tonnes this year.