China's 2019 iron ore imports edge up to second-highest on record

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s iron ore imports rose 0.47% in 2019 to hover just below their all-time annual peak, fueled by strong demand at steel mills and a second-half recovery in shipments from big miners after disruptions earlier in the year.

Cranes unload imported iron ore from a cargo vessel at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China October 27, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

The world’s top steel producer brought in 1.069 billion tonnes of iron ore in 2019, rising from 1.064 billion tonnes a year earlier, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Tuesday. The record remains 2017’s 1.075 billion tonnes.

In December, purchases of the steelmaking ingredient surged 11.8% from a month earlier to 101.3 million tonnes, the data showed – the highest monthly import level in 27 months.

The jump in iron ore imports came despite shipments from big miners being cut in the first half of 2019, when a tailings dam collapsed at a Brazilian mine while a tropical cyclone hit miners in west Australia.

“Purchases from non-mainstream suppliers increased amid soaring iron ore prices,” said Wu Shiping, analyst with Tianfeng Futures, noting smaller mines in Brazil and Australia and countries including South Africa and India increased shipments.

Prices for benchmark iron ore futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange DCIOcv1 soared almost 140% in 2019, squeezing profit margins at mills across China that were already hurt by slowing economic growth and a bruising trade war with the United States.

(GRAPHIC: China’s iron ore imports from mainstream suppliers and non-mainstream ones – here)

INFRASTRUCTURE DEMAND

Beijing’s move

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