* China April rare earth exports at 4,316.7 T -customs
* Number down fractionally y/y and down 22% from March high
* Full demand recovery seen taking 12-18 months -analyst (Adds analyst comment, background)
By Tom Daly
BEIJING, May 7 (Reuters) - China’s rare earth exports fell 22.2% month-on-month in April, customs data showed on Thursday, easing from a spike in March that saw ports clear shipments held up by coronavirus-related curbs on transport and as the pandemic hits overseas demand.
Shipments totalled 4,316.7 tonnes last month, the General Administration of Customs said, down from 5,551.4 tonnes in March, which was the highest monthly figure in records going back to June 2014, and down 0.3% from a year earlier.
China is the world’s dominant producer of rare earths, a group of 17 minerals used in consumer electronics and sophisticated military equipment, and last year raised the prospect of restricting supply amid a bruising trade war with the United States.
Its output slowed sharply due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 4,600 people in the country, while the ensuing disruption to production and logistics sharply restricted exports in January and February.
In the first four months of 2020, China exported 15,357.3 tonnes of rare earths, down 1.7% year-on-year, customs said.
Ryan Castilloux, managing director of Adamas Intelligence, said before the data release that the ongoing effects of the coronavirus were likely to weigh heavily on demand and forecast a 10-15% decrease in global consumption of neodymium magnets, a type of rare earth magnet, in 2020.
“As Europe and North America reopen and manufacturing resumes, we expect to see a full recovery within 12-18 months and the resumption of strong demand growth on the back of rising (electric vehicle) sales, increasing adoption of renewables and spending on consumer electronics and appliances,” Castilloux added in an email. (Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Kenneth Maxwell)