China’s iron ore imports in November climbed 3.4% from October, customs data showed on Thursday, as improved steel mill margins and a rebound in the yuan underpinned buying of the key steelmaking ingredient.

The world’s largest iron ore consumer brought in 102.74 million metric tons of the key steelmaking ingredient last month, up from 99.39 million tons in October, data from the country’s General Administration of Customs showed.

The volume compared to 98.85 million tons imported in November 2022.

The November imports stayed at an elevated level for the fourth consecutive month, above 100 million tons for the fifth time so far this year.

The higher imports last month came as more than a third of steel mills surveyed were operating at a profit by the end of the month, versus less than one-fifth in late October, data from consultancy Mysteel showed.

“While consumption exhibited monthly decline, inventories at mills increased thanks to restocking, reflecting high imports,” said Chu Xinli, a Shanghai-based analyst at China Futures.

Iron ore inventories at mills surveyed jumped by 3.5% on the month to 93.02 million tons in late November, although the daily average hot metal output among mills surveyed declined by 3% on the month to 2.37 million tons last month, Mysteel data showed.

China’s yuan CNY=CFXS appreciated 2.5% against the U.S. dollar in November.

China’s iron ore imports in the first 11 months of 2023 jumped 6.2% to a record high of 1.08 billion tons, the customs data also showed, with analysts expecting the annual total to hit an all-time high.

December ore imports are likely to stay at nearly the same level as lastmonth, as mills need to purchase cargoes to meet production requirements during the New Year holiday in early January, said Cai Yongzheng, a Nanjing-based director of Jiangsu Fushi Data Research Institute.

“Buyers will make settlement for their seaborne cargoes before the end of the year amid the strengthening yuan, which means volumes this month won’t be small.”

Also, steelmakers will start winter restocking in December to meet production needs over the Lunar New Year holiday in February, said analysts.

China’s exports of steel products in November rose 43.3% from the prior year to 8.01 million tons, and 0.88% higher from 7.94 million tons shipped abroad in October, customs data showed.

Total steel exports from the world’s largest steel producer were 82.66 million tons from January to November, a rise of 35.6% year-on-year, with the 2023 total well on track for the highest since 2016.

China imported 614,000 tons of steel products last month, down from 750,000 tons in November 2022, with the total over the January-November period at 6.98 million tons, down 29.2% from a year earlier, according to the customs data.

Source: Hellenic Shipping New