China iron ore imports ease in April amid cloudy outlook – by Clyde Russell (Reuters U.S. – May 5, 2017)

LAUNCESTON, AUSTRALIA – The heat came out of China’s iron ore imports in April, with vessel-tracking and port data suggesting a decline of several million tonnes from the near-record levels recorded in March.

A total of 83.27 million tonnes of the steel-making ingredient was discharged at Chinese ports in April, down 3.7 percent from March’s 86.46 million, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters Supply Chain and Commodity Forecasts. It’s worth noting that the vessel-tracking and port data typically comes in below the official Chinese customs data, which reported 95.56 million tonnes of iron ore imports in March, the second-highest on record.

Nonetheless, the ship data does point to lower imports in April, most likely in the order of 3 million tonnes. Apart from a weak month in February, most likely related to the Lunar New Year holidays, the vessel-tracking figures show April to be the weakest month for iron ore imports since September last year.

It also appears that much of the decline in iron ore imports was borne by Australia, China’s largest supplier, with the data showing imports of 53.9 million tonnes in April, down from 58.9 million in March.

In contrast, number two supplier Brazil saw Chinese imports of 18.48 million tonnes in April, up from March’s 16.54 million.The lower imports from Australia in April are most likely the result of earlier weather-related disruptions in the main producing area of Western Australia state that affected both mines and rail networks.

This means imports from Australia are likely to recover again in May, which may be a bearish signal for prices if miners such as Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group decide to chase volumes over prices.

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