* Feb imports lowest since Oct 2016, but in line with expectations
* March shipments seen at similar level (Adds detail)
BEIJING, March 8 (Reuters) - China’s soybean imports dropped 2.2 percent in February from the year before to 5.42 million tonnes, according to Reuters calculations based on customs data released on Thursday.
That marked the lowest monthly volume since October, 2016, but was in line with market expectations as this year’s Lunar New Year holiday fell in mid-February. In 2017, the holiday began at the end of January.
China, the world’s top soybean importer, buys 60 percent of the commodity traded worldwide to crush into soymeal used in animal feed. It mainly imports from Brazil and the United States,
China’s soy imports over the first two months of 2018 stood at 13.9 million tonnes, up 5.3 percent from the same time last year, data from the General Administration of Customs showed, buoyed by healthy demand for animal feed and good margins for crushers.
Soybean crush margins in Shandong province JCI-SBMG-SHDNI, a key production hub in the country’s east, have remained profitable since August.
However, analysts and traders say that imports in March will also be low, after slow loading of beans in Brazil last month and weather disruptions in the United States.
“In March there may only be around 5.5 million tonnes, so February and March total imports are really not high. In March the market may see a steady decline in supplies,” said Monica Tu, analyst at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co Ltd. (Reporting by Dominique Patton Editing by Joseph Radford)