February 15, 2016 / 3:29 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1-China Jan iron ore imports rise on year ago, steel exports fall

* Steel product exports drop 5.3 pct on yr

* Coal imports down 9.2 pct amid domestic supply glut

* Copper imports up 5.3 percent in Jan (Adds detail, background)

BEIJING, Feb 15 (Reuters) - China’s iron ore imports rose 4.6 percent in January from the same time last year to 82.19 million tonnes, as domestic steel mills replenished inventories with cheap overseas supplies, customs data showed on Monday.

The January figure was still down 14.6 percent on a record 96.27 million tonnes imported the previous month, however, amid a seasonal decline in steel production ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Demand for restocking held relatively strong in January, but levels were not enough to stimulate iron ore prices, the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) said in its monthly market report.

“Low smelter utilisation rates cannot support any increase in iron ore prices, and though factors like the Spring Festival holiday slowed the price decline, the overall downward trend has not been reversed,” the association said in the report, published earlier this month.

Iron ore for immediate delivery to China’s Tianjin port .IO62-CNI=SI fell more than 3 percent in January, after prices tumbled 40 percent in 2015.

China’s giant steel sector, which imported a record 952.72 million tonnes of iron ore last year, is struggling with crippling rates of overcapacity, declining domestic demand and a collapse in prices, and it has relied on overseas sales to keep it afloat.

Chinese exported 9.74 million tonnes of steel products in January, down 5.3 percent on a year ago and down 8.6 percent from December, in line with recent CISA warnings that sustained increases were unlikely, given a rise in foreign anti-dumping measures against Chinese producers.

The official customs data also showed that crude oil imports in January fell 4.6 percent on a year earlier to 26.69 million tonnes, while coal imports fell to 15.32 million tonnes, down 9.2 percent from the same time last year.

The domestic coal sector is suffering a severe capacity glut, cutting prices and eroding the cost advantages usually enjoyed by foreign suppliers. Chinese coal imports plunged 30 percent over the whole of 2015.

China’s copper imports rose 5.3 percent compared with last January, to reach 437,000 tonnes, while soy imports fell 17.7 percent in January to 5.66 million tonnes.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Richard Pullin

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