BEIJING, Feb. 11 -- Copper imports by China, the world's largest consumer of the metal, gained 25 percent in January from a year ago as higher domestic prices encouraged shipments. Copper prices gained.
Imports of copper and products were 292,096 metric tons last month, the Beijing-based customs office said today. Still, that's 21 percent less than December and the first monthly decline in three, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Copper has slumped 10 percent in London this year, reaching the lowest level since October last week amid concerns that central banks' tightening and Europe's budget deficits will slow the economic recovery. Chinese after-tax prices have been above those in London since December as traders and fabricators anticipate sustained demand in the high-production spring season.
"Imports are usually slow in winter," Wu Xiaoqi, an analyst at Minmetals Haiqin Futures Co., said from Beijing. Still, "the amount is quite sizeable compared with a year ago." The Chinese Lunar New Year vacation starts on Feb. 14 and lasts a week.
China's imports of copper are expected to halve to 1.5 million to 1.6 million tons this year from a record in 2009, Xi'an Maike Metal International Group and China Minmetals Nonferrous Metals Co. have said. Shen Haihua, an investment manager at HFZ Capital Management Ltd., said purchases may exceed 2 million tons.
January shipments "were higher than year ago and the year- on-year comparison makes more sense for the moment," Edward Fang, an analyst at Chine International Futures (Shanghai) Co. said today. "We'll need to see the imports in the first five months, which will be the key to determining copper prices this year."
China imported 340,000 tons of scrap copper in January, customs said today, compared with 444,344 tons in December. Imports of aluminum and the metal's products were 97,633 tons last month, compared with 117,020 tons a month ago.
Copper on the London Metal Exchange rose as much as 1.2 percent to $6,672 a metric ton, after earlier falling as much as 0.3 percent. May-delivery copper jumped as much as 3.2 percent to 54,890 yuan ($8,039) a ton on the Shanghai Futures Exchange and closed at 54,660 yuan.
Still, January imports "were less than many had expected," Zhou Qian, an analyst with commodities researcher CBI China Co., said. The Shanghai premium over prices in London had spurred speculation that imports would be more than 300,000 tons last month, he said.