Led By Iron Ore, China Commodity Imports Improve Again In June

By Glenn Dyer | More Articles by Glenn Dyer

China’s iron ore, copper, soybean, and oil imports soared to new highs in June as the overall value of shipments into the country rose for the first time this year.

The rise was only 0.3% but came directly from the surge in the value of commodity imports with iron ore and copper imports higher despite rising global prices.

Iron ore and copper prices have continued to rise into July – iron ore jumped above $US110 a tonne this week for the 62% Fe fines from Australia and Brazil and Comex copper futures jumped above $US2.92 a pound.

Iron ore prices are now at year highs, copper prices are at their highest since mid-2018.

Economists say the rise in commodity imports is a sign that the recovery from the virus crisis is gaining traction.

Iron ore imports jumped in June to their highest level in 33 months despite prices surging above $US100 a tonne mark.

In fact imports of iron ore jumped 35.3% to the largest monthly total since October 2017 of 101.68 million tonnes.

That was up from 87.03 million tonnes of iron ore in May.

Australian exports shipments of iron ore to China from Port Hedland hit a record of 46.2 million tonnes in June, data from the Pilbara Ports Authority last week revealed.

For the first half of the year, imports totaled 546.9 million tonnes, up 9.6% from the corresponding 2019 period.

Crude oil imports also hit another record of 53.18 million tonnes, a new high and up sharply from the previous high of 47.97 million tonnes in May. On a daily basis, imports of oil hit a high 12.9 million barrels, up more than 14% from May’s record of 11.3 million barrels a day.

The surge in May and June is due to those buyers who made forward purchases in March and April when oil prices plunged to less than $US10 a barrel for US crude and near $US10 a barrel for Brent style crudes.

For the January June period, imports totalled 268.75 million tonnes, up 9.9% from 244.58 million tonnes for the first half of 2019.

China’s June natural gas imports, both piped and liquefied natural gas (LNG), totalled 8.33 million tonnes, up about 11% from a year earlier.

For the first half of this year as a whole, they were up 3.3% to 48.36 million tonnes from a year earlier.

The record June volume brought imports for the first half of 2020 to 10.82 million barrels a day up 9.3% on the year, despite inflow hitting an eight-month low of 9.72 million b/d in March when the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns were at the deepest.

China’s unwrought copper imports more than doubled in June from a year earlier, data from China’s customs administration revealed on Tuesday.

The data showed copper imports soared 101.4% year-on-year to hit a record high of 656,483 tonnes in June, amid increased manufacturing activity and shortages of scrap. Copper imports totalled 436,030.6 tonnes in May and 326,000 tonnes in June 2019.

For the first half of 2020, imports totalled 2.84 million tonnes, up 25% year-on-year, the customs bureau said.

June’s aluminum exports fell 7.5% to 354,038 tonnes from 382,934.5 tonnes in May, the lowest since February 2019, as overseas demand remains weak thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Exports were also down 30% from last June. China is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of the metal.

Imports of soybeans climbed 71% to the largest on record of 11.16 million tonnes.

In contrast, China’s coal imports dropped 6.7% due to stringent purchase restrictions at ports despite solid fuel demand from power utilities.

Imports totalled 25.29 million tonnes last month, compared with 27.1 million tonnes in June last year but are still higher than 22.06 million in May.

For the first half of 2020, China imported 173.99 million tonnes of coal, up 12.7% over the corresponding period last year, and still well above the 300 million tonnes a year annual rate that worried China’s coal miners and the government.

About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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