China has continued its recent trend of significant imports of refined tin: the latest official data shows a nearly 2000% increase from May 2019.
According to the latest China Customs data, China imported 3,674 tonnes of refined tin in May 2020. This is a 1762% increase from the same period last year. Refined tin imports in May recorded the highest monthly imports since March 2012, with the majority coming from Indonesia (2,586 tonnes) and Bolivia (901 tonnes). In the same month, China exported 503 tonnes of refined tin, up 10% year-on-year (YoY), giving a balance of over 3,000 tonnes.
Refined tin imports from January to May totalled 7,697 tonnes, a ten times increase YoY. Exports totalled 1,935 tonnes, a 58% decrease YoY. The net balance shifted from nearly 4,000 tonnes exported between January and May 2019, to net imports of nearly 6,000 tonnes in the same period in 2020.
In terms of tin ore and concentrate, imports in May were 14,875 tonnes in gross weight, including 14,405 tonnes from Myanmar. The estimated tin content in these imports was 3,100 tonnes, up 19% month-on-month (MoM) and down 24% YoY. 2,900 tonnes of this metal content originated from Myanmar, up 32% MoM and down 24% YoY. So far this year, imports of contained tin totalled 16,700 tonnes, down 17% YoY, including 15,000 tonnes from Myanmar, down 18% YoY.
Our view: The record May refined imports were mainly due to domestic price much stronger than LME price, resulting in very profitable import arbitrage. The price on the Shanghai Futures Exchange recovered more rapidly than on the LME. However, with the LME tin price bouncing back to around 17,000 US$/tonne since early June, the import arbitrage window for refined tin has closed.
While imports of tin concentrate from Myanmar were higher in May than April, strict border controls are expected to continue throughout July. This hinders the movements of some workers into Myanmar, restricting local tin concentrate production. In June, concentrate shipments from the country are expected to be slightly more than 3,000 tonnes.