China December iron ore imports ease as steel mills slow

13 January 2017

Chinese imports of iron ore eased 8 percent in December from record highs a year earlier as steel mills in the world's top consumer curbed output due to a seasonal slowdown in demand during the cold winter months, official data showed on Friday.

For the full year, shipments rose 7.5 percent to a record 1.024 billion tonnes, data from the General Administration of Customs showed, as economic stimulus measures sustained steel demand even as the government cracked down on excess capacity.

The total topped the 2015 record of 952.84 million tonnes.

Iron ore prices soared 80 percent in 2016 as economic stimulus in China helped sustain steel output. China imports the vast majority of the world's sea-traded iron ore.

While down 3.2 percent from November, arrivals in the final month of the year of 88.95 million tonnes were the third highest for 2016. December 2015's total was a record of 96.26 million tonnes.

Steel mills have slowed output during the winter months, as demand for rebar for use in construction typically eases at this time. Many were also forced to curb capacity during a prolonged bout of toxic smog that blanketed northern China in the second half of December.

The drop suggests mills had ample stocks. Domestic inventories were at 2-1/2 year highs of 109 million tonnes last month.