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China’s iron ore imports shrink as steel mills scale back output


China’s iron ore imports shrank last month from a record high in December as steel mills cut production before a national holiday.

Overseas purchases in January fell to 78.57 million metric tons, compared with 86.85 million a month earlier and 86.83 million in the previous year, according to data released by the Beijing-based General Administration of Customs on Sunday. Imports averaged 77.71 million tons a month in 2014, when shipments of the raw material used to make steel totaled a record 932.51 million.

Slowing steel demand in China, the world’s biggest iron ore consumer, and rising low-cost supplies from BHP Billiton Ltd., Rio Tinto Group and Vale SA triggered a 47 percent collapse in prices last year. Mills are shutting earlier than normal amid weak sales before the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts on Feb. 18 this year, according to Australia & New Zealand Banking Group.

“Some steel mills began maintenance earlier than normal, which in turn meant we didn’t see much of an iron ore restock,” Jeremy Sussman, an analyst at Clarkson Capital Markets LLC in New York, said before Sunday’s data. “Given weaker-than-normal demand, overall activity levels have been a bit slower.”

Ore with 62 percent content delivered to China’s northeastern port of Qingdao rose 1.4 percent to $62.49 a dry ton on Feb. 6, according to Metal Bulletin Ltd. The benchmark grade dropped to $61.64 on Feb. 5, the lowest level in records dating back to May 2009.

Port Inventory

Iron ore stockpiles at Chinese ports slid by 1 percent to 98.8 million tons as of Jan. 30, the least since February, data from Shanghai Steelhome Information Technology Co. showed. Inventories have decreased 13 percent since peaking at 113.7 million in July.

China’s gross domestic product expanded by 7.4 percent last year, the weakest pace since 1990, as policy makers sought to shift the economy toward consumption. The nation will reach peak steel this year and output is forecast to decline after 2015, Morgan Stanley said in a report on Feb. 2.

China accounts for about half of global steel production. Its steel industry may be facing a crisis of confidence, Morgan Stanley said in a separate report on Feb. 3, citing market feedback, lower product prices and a lack of credit.


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