The price of copper slid back again on Friday after trade data showed a plunge in Chinese imports of refined metal, even as concentrate shipments set fresh highs.
Copper for delivery in May hit a low of $2.89 per pound ($6,370 a tonne) in overnight trading on the Comex market in New York, down from just shy of the $3.00 mark reached a week ago.
China consumes half the world’s copper, and trade data released on Friday showed the country’s imports of unwrought copper fell by more than a third in February at 311,000 tonnes from a bumper 479,000 tonnes last month.
It was the lowest monthly total since March 2018. Last year China imported a record 5.3m tonnes of refined copper.
Imports of copper concentrate continued to rise sharply, up 25% from a year ago to 1.93m tonnes last month. February cargoes were tied with the highest monthly total on record set in September last year. On an annualized basis concentrate imports are set to come in way above the record set in 2018 of 19.7m tonnes.
China put in place a complete ban on certain types of scrap copper imports at the start of 2019 on top of a 25% tariff on imports from the United States, one of its main suppliers, instituted in August.
Smelter expansions have increased demand and competition for copper ore in China, with spot treatment and refining charges (TC/RCs) — paid to smelters to process copper concentrate into refined metal — falling sharply this year as a result, according to Reuters data.