China May iron ore imports up 3% on supply chain easing

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China’s iron ore imports rose 3% in May from the same month a year earlier, customs data showed on Thursday, after disruptions to shipments by major suppliers eased.

The world’s top iron ore consumer brought in 92.52 million tonnes last month, up from 89.79 million tonnes in May 2021, the General Administration of Customs said.

Imports of the steel-making ingredient had slipped in recent months, as miners in Australia were hit by pandemic-induced labour shortages, while Brazil’s Vale struggled with weather.

In addition, war has suspended exports from smaller suppliers Ukraine and Russia.

However, disruptions had eased by last month, and appetite for imports was strong, despite weak consumption by China’s huge steel sector, analysts said.

“Australian and Brazilian iron ore miners’ run rates have improved materially since February’s lows, so it’s unsurprising to see imports shoot higher in May,” said Atilla Widnell, managing director at Singapore-based Navigate Commodities.

Chinese blast furnace utilisation rates have also outpaced iron ore imports, he added, with mills’ hopes of a quick rebound from COVID-19 lockdowns leading to a significant drawdown in portside inventories in the period.

In the first five months of 2022, China imported 447 million tonnes of iron ore, down 5.1% from the same period a year ago.

Data also showed that China’s steel product exports stood at 7.76 million tonnes in May, the highest since April 2021.

Some Chinese traders have ramped up exports to Europe to fill a shortfall caused by the Ukraine war.

“Demand for Chinese slabs, on which China places 15% export taxes, has been especially strong amidst a Black Sea supply vacuum,” said consultancy Rystad Energy in a note this week.

Exports in the first five months of the year were down 16.2% to 25.92 million tonnes.

Steel imports last month reached 806,000 tonnes, with total January-May imports at 4.98 million tonnes, customs said.

Source: Reuters