(Reuters) -China’s copper imports in September snapped a run of five month-on-month declines, customs data showed on Wednesday, as shipments held up in ports of the world’s biggest user of the metal became available after coronavirus curbs were eased.
The country’s copper imports for the third quarter, however, fell to a more than two-year low, chiefly because prices remained elevated in July and August.
Arrivals of unwrought copper and products into China were 406,016 tonnes in September, the General Administration of Customs said.
That was up 3% from 394,017 tonnes in August – the lowest import figure since June 2019 – but still down nearly 44% from September 2020, which was the second-highest monthly total on record.
In the first nine months of 2021, China’s copper imports were down 19.5% year-on-year at 4.1 million tonnes.
Imports for the third quarter of the year came in at 1.224 million tonnes, its lowest quarterly levels since the second quarter of 2019.
Activity in China’s manufacturing sector, a major copper consumer, shrank in September due to wider curbs on electricity use and elevated input prices.
However, last month’s copper imports swelled due to late arrivals of cargoes that were held up by congestion at Chinese ports in August as COVID-19 cases led to stricter disinfection measures.
Furthermore, refined copper inventories in Shanghai bonded warehouses fell by almost a third in September, the steepest monthly drop since at least 2013, as relatively cheaper London prices for copper made imports more favourable.
“The delays in logistics and an open arbitrage window pushed up imports,” said CRU Chinese copper analyst He Tianyu.
The electricity curbs, however, should not affect copper consumption in the longer run. “It has more impact on aluminium and steel,” said He, as they are more energy intensive.
Imports of copper concentrate, or partially processed copper ore, were 2.11 million tonnes in September, the highest monthly level since March, customs said.
That was up 11.9% from 1.886 million tonnes in August but slightly down from 2.138 million tonnes in September 2020, the second-highest monthly total on record.
Exports of unwrought aluminium and products were at 491,985 tonnes in September, the highest monthly level since March 2020.
Exports were up slightly from 490,286 tonnes in August, and up 15.4% year-on-year.
Reporting by Emily Chow and Tom Daly; Editing by Richard Pullin and Muralikumar Anantharaman