* July unwrought copper imports at 420,000 T, highest since Jan
* Copper concentrate imports above 2 mln T for first time
* China imposed tighter curbs on copper scrap imports from July 1
* Aluminium exports slip to 487,000 T, down 3.8% from June (Adds analyst comment)
By Tom Daly
BEIJING, Aug 8 (Reuters) - China’s unwrought copper imports bounced back in July after two months of declines, jumping nearly 29% from June to the highest since January, while copper concentrate imports hit a record high, customs data showed on Thursday.
Arrivals of unwrought copper, including anode, refined and semi-finished copper products into China, the world’s top copper consumer, stood at 420,000 tonnes last month, the General Administration of Customs said, up from 326,000 tonnes in June but still down 7.1% from July 2018.
“The July numbers are strong, but the June and July numbers are just like chalk and cheese,” said Vivek Dhar, an analyst at Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Melbourne.
“Right now, it does look positive, but it’s coming off some pretty terrible numbers in June. I would hold off making any assumptions until we see industrial production in a few days.”
Factory activity in China, whose trade war with the United States has escalated over the past week, shrank for a third consecutive month in July, according to an official survey, in a bearish sign for the manufacturing sector that is a key source of copper demand.
Benchmark London copper prices hit a two-year low of $5,640 a tonne on Monday.
However, restrictions on Chinese imports of high-grade copper scrap from July 1 have left consumers seeking other forms of the metal, such as refined copper and concentrate, as an alternative source of supply.
Imports of copper concentrate CNC-COPORE-IMP, or partially processed copper ore, came in at an all-time high of 2.07 million tonnes in July, the data showed.
That beat the previous record of 1.93 million tonnes struck in February this year and in September 2018, and topped 2 million tonnes for the first time. It was up 41.1% from June, which was the lowest since December, and up 12.4% year-on-year.
“The copper concentrate imports, you’d expect that to rise as copper smelting in China rises, so that makes sense,” said Dhar.
Meanwhile, China’s July aluminium exports fell 3.8% month-on-month and 6.2% year-on-year.
China, the world’s top aluminium producer, last month exported 487,000 tonnes of unwrought aluminium, including primary metal, alloy and semi-finished products.
Analysts say the recent weakening of the Chinese yuan to below 7 to the dollar could boost metal exports going forward.
For more details, click on (Reporting by Tom Daly; Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE; Editing by Richard Pullin and Joseph Radford)