Copper and iron ore prices bounced back on Wednesday despite customs data showing a sharp drop in imports by China as the country's winter anti-pollution program cuts down refinery and blast furnace production.
In heavy volume of more than 1.1m tonnes by lunchtime in New York Comex copper for delivery in December added nearly 1% from Tuesday's close to $3.1115 a pound ($6,860 per tonne). Copper hit an intra-day high of $3.25 a pound, the highest since February 2014, mid-October and year-to-date gains for the bellwether metal remain above 23%.
October customs data from China showed import volumes of unwrought copper fell to the lowest since April, totalling 330,000 tonnes during the month, down more than 20% from September. While imports were up from September last year, cargoes are down nearly 8% over the first 10 months of 2017 to 3.76m tonnes compared to the same period in 2016.
Shipments of copper concentrate in October were up slightly from last year but fell back month-on-month to total 1.37m tonnes in October. Year to date Chinese concentrate imports are up slightly from last year. China consumes nearly 50% global copper output.
Iron ore volumes at year-and-a-half low
China consumes more than two-thirds of the seaborne iron ore market and produces as much steel as the rest of the world combined. Beijing's war on smog has concentrated on the country's steelmaking hubs near the capital where mandated cuts of as much as 50% came into effect last month.
Imports of high-quality iron ore fines and lump ore from Australia, Brazil and South Africa topped 100m tonnes for the first time in September, but plunged by 23% last month to 79.5m tonnes as steelmakers work through inventory amid lower production. Total shipments for the first ten months of the year is up 6.3% to 896m tonnes.