HONG KONG, July 17 (Reuters) - China's refined copper production rose 7 percent in June, recovering from a three-month low in May and matching a record high set last August, as smelters bet on improving demand in the second half as the government takes steps to boost the economy.
The on-month rise had also been broadly expected because some smelters picked up production in June after operations had slowed due to maintenance in May.
Refined copper production was 518,000 tonnes in June, versus 484,000 tonnes in May, which was the lowest output since February, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Tuesday.
Chen Dixi, an analyst at Jinrui Futures, said smelters had turned more optimistic on copper consumption since the middle of last month.
"Now the consensus in the metals industry is that consumption will be better in the second half than in the first half as government polices will be reflected in consumption," said Chen. Jinrui is a subsidiary of China's top copper producer Jiangxi Copper.
Demand for refined copper in the world's top consumer of the metal has stayed weak for most of this year due to the slowdown in the economy.
China's economy grew 7.6 percent in the second quarter of 2012 from a year earlier, its slowest pace in three years. The government is expected to respond by introducing more policies to support the economy.
Chen said the output of smelters in the second half was set to pick up.
"In the second half, demand from infrastructure projects, the auto sector and power cable manufacturing is likely to rise."
China June base metals production
Production of aluminium hit a record 1.685 million tonnes in June, up 0.1 percent from the previous record of 1.683 million tonnes set in May.
Provincial governments, trying to support local smelters amid an economic slowdown in China, have given them subsidised electricity. That has encouraged some to increase production.
Yao Xizhi, an analyst at state-backed research firm Antaike, said about 500,000 tonnes of idled capacity came back online in May.
Smelters had added about one million tonnes of new aluminium production capacity in the first half and are likely to start up another one million tonnes of capacity in the second half, he said.
Nickel production surged 33.4 percent from a month ago to hit a year high of 23,688 tonnes in June after output fell 18.4 percent to a 15-month low of 17,761 tonnes in May.
Chinese producers of nickel pig iron, a feedstock for stainless steel mills to replace refined nickel and iron ore, cut production in May as demand from top end-users, stainless steel mills, fell, while nickel prices declined.
But the spike in output in June may be short-lived because demand from stainless steel mills has fallen in July, which may prompt producers to trim production, sources at smelters said.
"A leading stainless steel mill is cutting our shipments of nickel pig iron by a quarter in July because the mill will cut its own production," said a source at a major nickel pig iron producer.