The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) forced the Chinese government to quarantine the country, halting the majority of domestic refined tin production. Only government-owned smelters, including Yunnan Tin, operated during the lockdown. Output was, however, much lower.
During the lockdown, China imported over 1,500 tonnes of refined tin. This was an increase of over 800% year-on-year (YoY) and a continuation of the high imports seen in December 2019, the highest since early 2017. Exports of refined tin were reduced; China shipped out just 520 tonnes, down 69% YoY.
Imports of concentrates also fell during the period of lower smelter activity. According to the latest customs data, China imported 24,678 tonnes of tin ore and concentrates in January and February. The estimated tin content was down 22% YoY to 7,000 tonnes, with 89% of the material mined in neighbouring Myanmar.
Our view: Mining in Myanmar has still not fully resumed after the Spring Festival holiday. Workers returning to the country from China are subject to a 14-day quarantine period, while the recent collapse in tin prices has seen some miners stop mining activity. Shipments from the country are now pre-holiday stocks, and we expect exports to remain low until May at the earliest. This is unlikely to affect the sentiment in the tin market, which is firmly focused on the spread of COVID-19 globally. According to sources in the country, the increased imports were due to a large import arbitrage between the LME and SHFE tin prices.