China’s aluminium imports reached a record annual high with a month to spare, customs data showed on Wednesday, after November inflows took this year’s arbitrage-fuelled shipments above the previous peak set in 2009. Imports of unwrought aluminium and aluminium products into China, the world’s biggest producer of the metal, came in at 188,973 tonnes last month, the General Administration of Customs said. That was down 26.4 per cent from October but up 158.6 per cent year on year, according to Reuters calculations.
It took imports for the January-November period to 2.44 million tonnes, a fourfold increase on the same period last year and eclipsing the 2.32 million tonnes imported in the whole of 2009. China rarely imports large quantities of aluminium but its rapid recovery from the coronavirus crisis pushed Shanghai aluminium prices well above London prices this year, opening a so-called arbitrage window for cheaper overseas metal
The spread between Shanghai and London prices peaked in July, when China became a net importer for the first time in more than a decade. The arbitrage window has since closed but metal has continued to flow in.
While overall imports are higher than in 2009, when a similar spread opened up as Chinese demand recovered from the global financial crisis, inflows of primary aluminium in 2020 – about 877,500 tonnes over January-October – are still well below the 1.5 million tonnes imported 11 years ago.
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