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China's Jan coal imports surge threefold month on month to 33.5 mil mt

Singapore — China's total coal imports in January jumped threefold to 33.5 million mt from 10.23 million mt in December, according to preliminary figures released by China's General Administration of Customs on Thursday.

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In January 2018, the country imported 27.81 million mt of coal, the data showed.

The strong rebound in January coal imports came after the tight import restrictions imposed by China in December were lifted. The restrictions were put in place late last year as China tried to rein in excess imports. China had aimed to maintain 2018 import volume at the same level as 2017 at 271 million mt. But according to customs data, China still exceeded its target and imported a total of 281.23 million mt of coal in 2018, up 3.9% year on year.

"The strong surge must be due to easing of restrictions in January, as the import grip was too tight in December," a Singapore-based trader said.

The total coal imports value in January stood at Yuan 19.31 billion ($2.86 billion), while December imports value was Yuan 5.09 billion.

"From the figures, it seems that coal prices in general had gone up in January, in fact we can see 3,800 kcal/kg NAR prices had increased quite a lot since the beginning of the year," a China-based trader said.

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The price of FOB Kalimantan 4,200 kcal/kg GAR -- or 3,800 kcal/kg NAR -- was assessed at $35.50/mt Wednesday, up from about $29.25/mt at the start of December, S&P Global Platts data showed.

With the exception of oil, China's commodity imports were stronger than December levels, ANZ researchers said in a note Thursday.

"Consumers look to have taken advantage of lower prices in late December and early January to aggressively restock ahead of Chinese New Year holidays in February," said the note.

-- Hui Min Lee, hui.min.lee@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Elizabeth Thang, newsdesk@spglobal.com