LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - European copper premiums were steady at the beginning of the year as business activity restarts following the year-end break, with traders anticipating a pickup in demand in the months ahead from top consumer China.
The premium for copper Grade A Rotterdam CU-GA-ROT, paid over the London Metal Exchange (LME) cash price, was quoted in a range of $40 to $60 a tonne.
Traders said they expected to see China, which accounts for 40 percent of global copper consumption, ramp-up buying in early 2012 in a move that would support premiums.
China's imports of copper rose 12.6 percent from the previous month to a record high in December, official data showed, as arbitrage and financing opportunities boosted the metal's appeal.
"We know they have run down inventories... and need to restock," a physical copper trader said.
"They are very price sensitive and that will be a big factor in deciding when they will come back into the market."
Copper prices posted their first annual decline in three years in 2011, shedding around 25 percent of their value on worries about demand in light of a debt crisis in Europe and slowing economic growth.
"Some copper has already been going to China and maybe after the Lunar New Year we could see more buying activity but probably not before then," a second trader said.
Supply of spot copper in the domestic Chinese market had increased due to imports but demand has been weak as fabricating plants slowed their operations ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays, traders in Shanghai said late last week.
The Lunar New Year falls on Jan. 23 this year and China's markets will close between Jan. 22 and Jan. 28.