BEIJING, March 8 (Reuters) - China's coal imports fell by almost a third in February from the previous month to their lowest in a year, customs data showed on Wednesday, as buying slowed due to the weeks-long Lunar New Year holiday and the peak winter heating season neared an end.
The world's largest buyer of the fuel imported 17.68 million tonnes of coal, down 29 percent from January, figures from the General Administration of Customs of China showed. That was up 30.6 percent from last February.
Arrivals for the first two months of 2017, which smoothes out the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday falling at different times, totalled 42.61 million tonnes, up 48.5 percent.
"The sharp month on month plunge suggested business activities in downstream factories slowed as demand softened during the prolonged Lunar New Year holiday," said Wang Fei, a coal analyst with Hua'an Futures.
"We are expecting China's coal imports to remain subdued on a monthly basis between March and May as the heating season in northern provinces wraps up and electricity demand in southern China will also see a drop as temperatures climb."
The data comes after China slapped a surprise ban in mid-February on imports from North Korea, the country's main supplier of anthracite coal.
The year-on-year rise in February suggested a sustained pick-up in buying for cheaper foreign coal amid a domestic coal price rally, which has been triggered by governments efforts to phase out overcapacity.
The figures include lignite, a type of coal with lower heating value that is largely supplied by Indonesia.
For more details, click on (Reporting by Lusha Zhang and Josephine Mason; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)