China National Materials Reserve Bureau is one of the most influential institutions in the global metal market. At the beginning of 2009, the bureau's buying provided support for metal prices, laying the foundation for the sharp rise in prices over the next two years.
But since peaking in 2011, metal prices have fallen sharply, with copper, nickel and aluminum all hitting their lowest levels in recent months, partly due to market concerns about China's economic slowdown.
Traders said that the purchase of the China National Materials Reserve Bureau may be interpreted as a positive signal that China has confidence in future consumption.
A senior metal trader said: "China's destocking has reached a considerable scale, and the price is at the level that the China National Materials Reserve Board is willing to buy bulk commodities."
"If you buy copper every time China National Material Reserve Bureau buys copper, you will make money."
Traders said that although the China National Materials Reserve Bureau purchased aluminum, zinc and other metals in the country in the past year in support of troubled domestic producers, the import of nickel marks the post-2008-09 financial crisis. Since the wave of purchases, China has entered the international market for the first time. These purchases were implemented a few months ago, but they have not been made public.
Nickel alloy prices for stainless steel production have plummeted 50% since the beginning of 2011, with prices reaching $14,609,000 per ton last month, the lowest level in nearly four years. Despite the global supply, China is heavily dependent on low-grade nickel ore imported from Indonesia, and the Indonesian government may ban the export of such ore from next year.
Copper prices have also fallen this year, although prices are still more than doubled compared to the 2008 low.
Copper, which is used in almost all wires, is considered a strategic metal in China, because China needs copper for industrialization, but a large part of copper must be imported. Some traders believe that the China National Materials Reserve Bureau is seeking to buy 200,000 to 300,000 tons of copper.
A trader said: "The China National Materials Reserve Bureau is quietly inquiring about the news." Another trader added: "The drop in prices is what they dream of."
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