China’s Copper Imports: What to Expect in 2018

China’s copper imports

Previously in this series, we noted that China’s aluminum and steel exports rose in December despite capacity cuts. We need to look at China’s copper imports to get a sense of the country’s copper demand. China’s copper imports data are closely followed by investors in companies like Glencore (GLEN-L), Freeport-McMoRan (FCX), and Southern Copper (SCCO).

China’s Copper Imports: What to Expect in 2018

Imports fell

In December, China imported 440,000 metric tons of unwrought copper and copper products (FM) (ANTO). Imports fell on a YoY (year-over-year) and a monthly basis. Last year, China’s unwrought copper imports were 4.69 million metric tons—5.0% lower compared to 2016.

Along with unwrought copper, China also imports copper concentrates that are processed in the country. In December, China imported 1.65 million metric tons of copper concentrates. Imports fell on a yearly and a sequential basis. Looking at 2017, China’s copper concentrate imports were 17.34 million metric tons—1.7% higher compared to 2016.

2018 outlook

Last year, China’s copper scrap imports rose as scrap flows improved amid higher copper prices. However, China plans to ban certain copper scrap imports. The move is intended to address the country’s pollution problem. If China’s copper scrap imports fall this year, it could lead to higher concentrate imports.

China’s December trade data point to softening demand in China. It’s reflected in lower copper imports and higher steel and aluminum exports. It could be the first warning sign for metal bulls since metal prices still trade near multiyear high levels.

You can visit Market Realist’s Metals and Mining page for ongoing updates on this industry.