China imported slightly more iron ore in March, while steel exports reached their highest level in nearly eight years.

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China’s iron ore imports in March increased by approximately 0.5% compared to the same period last year, as reported by customs data on Friday. This rise comes amidst expectations of heightened demand following the Lunar New Year holiday break, with steelmakers typically resuming production during this time.

The data from the General Administration of Customs revealed that China imported 100.72 million metric tons of iron ore last month, slightly up from 97.51 million tons in February and 100.23 million tons in March 2023.

Analysts, such as Chu Xinli from China Futures, suggested that the relatively high level of imports was driven by the anticipation of steel mills restarting production in March, thus increasing demand for ore. However, actual demand fell short of expectations, leading to an accumulation of portside stocks and a significant decline in prices.

Portside inventories of iron ore surged by 5.3% to 142.1 million metric tons by the end of March, marking the highest level since late February 2023, according to data from consultancy Steelhome.

For the first quarter of 2024, China’s iron ore imports totaled 310.13 million tons, reflecting a 5.5% increase compared to the same period last year. Pei Hao, an analyst at international brokerage FIS, noted that fewer disruptions in shipments due to weather conditions also contributed to the high import volumes.

In terms of steel trade, China’s steel product exports in March surged by 25.35% year-on-year to reach 9.89 million tons, the highest level since July 2016. This brings the total for the first quarter to 25.8 million tons, the highest recorded for this period since 2016, representing a 30.7% increase year-on-year, according to customs data.

Conversely, China’s imports of steel products in March declined by 9.26% to 617,000 tons. The total imports for January-March saw a decrease of 8.6% year-on-year, amounting to 1.75 million tons.

The dynamics of China’s iron ore and steel trade continue to play a significant role in global markets, with fluctuations in demand and supply impacting prices and trade patterns worldwide. As China navigates economic shifts and policy changes, observers closely monitor these trends for potential implications on the broader steel industry and global economy.

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