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China's September commodity imports defy skeptics

China’s imports of major commodities, including crude oil, iron ore, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coal, appeared to have once again shown resilience in September, challenging the prevailing narrative that the world’s second-largest economy is weakening.

While official customs data for the month will only be published next week after the national day holidays, vessel-tracking and port data compiled by Refinitiv suggest that imports held up in September.

The steady commodity imports sit somewhat at odds with soft readings in other economic data, with the both the official and private Purchasing Managers’ Indexes painting a picture of a sluggish manufacturing sector.

The official PMI stayed in negative territory in September, improving slightly to 49.8 points from 49.5 in August, while the private Caixin survey rose to 51.4 from 50.4, staying above the 50-level that separates expansion from contraction.

For LNG, China imported 4.46 million tonnes in September, down from 5.02 million in August, but about the same as volumes in May, June and July. The September arrivals also exceeded the 4.02 million tonnes from the same month in 2018.

Seaborne iron ore imports were 86.1 million tonnes in September, down from 88.4 million in August, but at 2.87 million tonnes per day, September’s daily imports were above August’s 2.85 million.

Taken together, August and September have been the two strongest months for iron ore imports since March, a sign that China is now able to source sufficient supply following outages in top exporters Australia and Brazil earlier this year.

The only major commodity not showing strength was coal, with September seaborne arrivals totalling 22.2 million tonnes, down from 26.5 million in August. However, the September imports were still well above the 16.8 million tonnes recorded in the same month last year. (Reuters)

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