China copper exports to jump in rare deliveries to LME depots

Copper warehouse. (Stock image)

China is poised to export a significant volume of copper in coming weeks, a relatively infrequent occurrence that underscores a tepid demand recovery in the biggest market.

At least four major smelters are planning to deliver between 23,000 and 45,000 tons of refined copper in total to London Metal Exchange depots in Asia, according to people with knowledge of the sales, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private.

The burst of exports confirms China’s weak economic rebound, with manufacturing and construction still gearing up after Covid-related disruptions over the past year. Market inventories have jumped recently, and a key question is whether the wave of outbound shipments will extend beyond this month.

China imports huge amounts of copper in various forms, but refined metal occasionally flows out when there’s too much domestic supply and not enough elsewhere. Price differentials now make it more lucrative to sell at least some material on the world market.

Some 13,000 tons that appeared in warehouses in Busan, South Korea this month are from Chinese smelters, one of the people said.

China set a growth target for this year of around 5%, widely considered a modest goal as Asia’s biggest economy faces lingering headwinds. A sluggish recovery would be a blow to bullish investors who said a rebound of China’s manufacturing and construction would propel prices higher.

There are some signs that copper demand in the country is picking up. On-exchange inventories have begun to fall and the nation’s manufacturing index for February notched its highest reading in more than a decade. The Chinese smelters have no clear idea about future exports with the domestic outlook remaining uncertain, the people said.

The exported metal is likely to go to LME sheds in South Korea or other Asian locations, and the volumes are in addition to any contracted supplies, the people said.


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