China's imports of crude and iron ore hit multi-month lows in June as the world's second-largest economy lost momentum, trade data showed on Wednesday, raising the prospect of weaker demand for commodities in the second half.
Headline trade data showed China's overall imports and exports in June were well below expectations, and Beijing warned of a grim outlook for trade in the third quarter. That raised fresh concerns about the extent of the slowdown in China's economy and dimmed the prospects for a rebound in raw material imports in coming months.
"These are pretty bad numbers. Overall import data shows the economy is under growing pressure and that will weigh on commodities demand in the second half," said Lian Zheng, an analyst at Xinhu Futures Co.
Brent crude futures slipped from the day's high above $108 a barrel after the data, while London copper fell to as low as $6,685 a tonne, within reach of a three-year low. Shanghai rebar futures slipped 0.2 percent.
CRUDE, IRON ORE IMPORTS
China's crude imports fell 1.4 percent in the first half of 2013 from the same period a year ago, as slowing economic growth in the world's second-largest oil consumer cooled demand.
Inbound shipments were also down 4.4 percent from the previous month on a daily basis at 5.39 million barrels per day, the lowest monthly rate since September.
"I expect crude oil imports will continue to slow because the overall economy is slowing," said Jonathan Barratt, chief executive of Sydney-based commodity research firm Barratt's Bulletin.
China's refinery production gained a tepid 2.9 percent in the first five months of the year, while delays installing storage for strategic petroleum reserves also slowed purchases.
As well as struggling with sluggish external demand, the economy also faces pressure from government efforts to control over capacity in some industrial sectors and rein in credit. China's economic growth may have hit a 23-year low of 7.5 percent in the last quarter, down from 7.7 percent in the first three months, a Reuters poll this week showed.
Iron ore imports into China, the world's top buyer of the steelmaking raw material, dropped 9.1 percent from a month ago to 62.30 million tonnes - the lowest in four months.
Monthly shipments should hover below 65 million tonnes in July and August, said Helen Lau, mining analyst with UOB-KAY Hian Securities.
CREDIT CRUNCH BOOSTS COPPER IMPORTS
Record soybean shipments and a bounce in copper imports to a 9-month high were bright spots, but copper imports were supported by demand for the metal as collateral for financing rather than by industrial consumption.
Soy imports were boosted by an easing of port congestion in key supplier Brazil, but shipments could start falling from August on weak new orders.
China's copper imports in June rose nearly 6 percent from May, climbing for a second straight month to a 9-month high, as soft global prices and strong demand to use the metal for financing spurred purchases.
Copper imports are expected to remain strong in the next few months, since deliveries are expected after buyers had been queuing up to take delivery of refined copper from London Metal Exchange warehouses, industry sources said.
Arrivals of anode, refined copper, alloy and semi-finished copper products, stood at 379,951 tonnes in June, the highest since September, 2012. Shipments in the first half fell 20 percent to 2 million tonnes, against the first half of 2012.
Imports of soybeans into the world's top buyer of the oil seed soared more than a third to 6.93 million tonnes in June from May on improved port operations in Brazil. But total soybean arrivals in the first six months were weaker, down 5.4 percent from a year ago at 27.49 million tonnes.
"I think this momentum in (soybean) imports is likely to taper off after July," said Joyce Liu, an analyst with Phillip Futures.