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China's Jan aluminum exports reach 'record high,' export value slightly up

Tokyo — China's aluminum exports in January hit a record high of 552,000 mt, according to analysts, but the export value increased at a slower pace on the back of weak London Metal Exchange prices, the Chinese General Administration of Customs data showed. According to Citi metals weekly report, China's January export volume beat the previous high of 543,000 mt in December 2014.

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The export value was $1.46 billion, which was slightly above December's $1.43 billion. The 552,000-mt export was up 23% from a year ago, and up 5% from a month ago, while the value rose 14% year on year and up 2% month on month.

Chinese exports averaged $2,640/mt in January, which was below the 2018 average of $2,841/mt.

The exports comprise unwrought aluminum and aluminum products.

The January export price plunged due to the LME aluminum price falling to an average of $1,846/mt. Chinese exports are mostly on the basis of LME prices plus the regional premiums. There are transactions in Shanghai Futures Exchange aluminum price settlements as well, although limited.

While export prices fluctuate with the aluminum futures, Asian traders said in the longer term, Chinese export values were seen to grow. Chinese exporters were shifting focus to value added products for machinery applications rather than raw materials.

"Since November, China has been exporting over 500,000 mt/month so the January's rise to 552,000 mt does not surprise me. The volume should fall in February due to Lunar New Year holidays," said one international trader based in Tokyo.

"There is a noticeable improvement in the quality of Chinese manufactured products. We have been working to sell made-in-China products and their penetration in various markets will speed up in the coming year or so," he added. "We trade all types of aluminum except 5000- or 6000-series alloy sheets," he said.

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A Japanese automotive supplier said Chinese products have competitive advantages, such as prices. Chinese products also suffer some disadvantages but Chinese suppliers are likely to find solutions, he said. "Their quality level is inconsistent still, and chemical compositions of a sample here and a sample there may prove to be different, and this is not up to automakers' standard. In addition, sizes of Chinese factory machines are not compatible with international standards...but world-class automakers buying Chinese 5000- or 6000-series alloys for car body is a strong possibility," he said.

-- Mayumi Watanabe, mayumi.watanabe@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Ikhhlaq Singh Aujla, newsdesk@spglobal.com