SHANGHAI, May. 31 (SMM) –
The latest data from China customs show China’s lead concentrate imports in May totaled 140,300 mt, up sharply by 45.07% from the 96,700 mt in April. Total imports through the first five months of 2014 amounted to 627,200 mt, up 15.36% YoY.
The shipments arriving in May were largely booked in April or early May, except for imports under long-term contracts. During this period of time, the Shanghai/LME lead price ratio hovered near 6.5-6.7, while RMB also continued to depreciate. Despite these unfavorable conditions, lead concentrate imports rose significantly, which SMM believes was due largely to three factors.
First, large volumes of lead concentrates were imported under long-term contracts, which are closely related to fixed agreements and features extended booking periods, but not as much dependent upon the low Shanghai/LME lead price ratio over the past few months.
Second, a high proportion of these shipments consisted of low-grade lead concentrates. Despite marked increases in import volumes during May, high-grade lead concentrate from traditional suppliers decreased. Imports of high-grade lead concentrate from the US, Russia, Peru, Australia, and Mexico accounted for only 40% of the total in May, compared to 50% in April. Imports of low-grade lead concentrate from Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Spain, however, rose in the same month. Low-grade lead concentrate gained favor with companies suffering losses from imports since the raw material for lead smelting was more competitive on TC and other metals content in relation to high-grade concentrate.
Third, China’s primary lead smelters were starved of raw materials. SMM sources report shortages of lead concentrate in China had grown over the first five months of this year, prompting lead smelters to import concentrate in order to maintain stable production.
Data from China customs show China’s refined lead imports totaled only 6 mt during May, and that YTD imports through May were only 94 mt, down 80.46% from the same period last year. SMM believes the small import volumes were attributable to sufficient supply in China and relatively high prices for imported lead ingot.
Boosted by robust domestic demand, China’s lead alloy imports hit 1,740 mt in May and reached 13,000 mt for the first five months of the year.
Meanwhile, China’s refined lead exports fell in May by 34.42% MoM to 2,263 mt, but YTD exports through May rose by 83.27% YoY to 13,058 mt. China has maintained export volumes of over 2,000 mt since September 2013, of which the tolling trade from Hunan province contributes significantly. Most exports headed to Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam.
In addition, China’s lead plate exports in May were 2,679 mt, and YTD exports for the first five months of the year were 11,800 mt, which a recent SMM survey shows were shipped mostly to ASEAN member states.