SHANGHAI, Jul. 30 (SMM) –
Data from China Customs showed China’s lead concentrate imports in June were down 42.34% MoM to 80,200 mt. Peru and Russia remained the major suppliers to China for lead concentrate during June. 48% of June’s concentrate imports came from Peru, Russia, Australia, and Mexico, with smaller import volumes from North Korea, Poland, and Iran.
SMM attributes the decline in imports during June to falling operating rates at smelters, which resulted in weaker demand for raw materials.
According to an SMM’s survey, the average operating rate at primary lead smelters during June was only 56%, down sharply from the 64% in May, and with enterprises of all sizes experiencing declines. Many domestic smelters, such as Chihong Zn & Ge, Guiyang Yinxing Nonferrous, and Jingui Silver, conducted mid-year maintenance in June. Other smelters limited production due to weak lead prices. In this context, lead concentrate imports actually fell instead of rising, although the Shanghai/LME lead price ratio rose in May and was more favorable for imports.
During June, conditions were similar to April, with no imports from the US reported. The Shanghai/LME lead price ratio reached a high of 8.47 at the end of June, so lead concentrate imports by smelters and traders were frequently reported. SMM expects these imports will be reflected in import figures over the next few months after taking in to consideration shipping times and customs clearance.
China’s lead concentrate imports during 1H 2012 totaled 757,600 mt, up 14.7% YoY.
Data from China Customs revealed that China’s refined lead imports during June were only 411 mt, down 77% on a monthly basis. YTD imports through June were 4,153 mt, also down 7.5% YoY.
Over 97% of China’s lead imports during June came from South Korea, with the remainder mainly from Japan. Most refined lead imports during June were from neighboring Asian countries, which help cut shipping times and was quickly reflected in customs data. South Korea remains the largest supplier of China’s refined lead imports, providing almost 80% of China’s total lead imports during 1H 2012.
The significant MoM decline in refined lead imports during June was attributed to a two-year record high volume of lead imports during May. As the Shanghai/LME lead price ratio rose above 7.9 in late May, low selling interest from smelters forced some enterprises to seek overseas suppliers, causing refined lead imports to surge in May. The Shanghai/LME lead price ratio became even more favorable for importing lead during June, but operating rates at lead-acid battery producers were only up 1.4% during the month, so enthusiasm for importing refined lead was dampened by weak downstream demand.