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China iron ore imports rise in May, but the supply crunch remains

China's iron ore imports rebounded in May from an 18-month-low in April but were still well down on the same month last year as disruptions to output in Brazil and Australia hampered shipments.

According to data from the General Administration of Customs on Monday, for the first five months of the year, China imported 423.92 million tonnes of iron ore, down 5.2% on the same period in 2018.

The world's biggest iron ore consumer brought in 83.75 million tonnes of iron ore last month, up 3.7% from April but down 11% from May 2018.

Brazil's Vale SA has cut shipments following a fatal disaster at a tailings dam, while big Australian miners BHP Group, Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) and Fortescue were affected by a tropical cyclone in Western Australia.

The disruptions come amid a surge in Chinese steel output, which rose to a record level in April, pushing iron ore futures prices in China to record levels late last month.

Imported iron ore stocks at Chinese ports have fallen to 124.9 million tonnes, a level last seen in February 2017, according to data tracked by SteelHome consultancy.

However, industry figures say there is little scope for a significant increase in near-term output from miners.

Meanwhile, traders and analysts expect demand to stay robust as mills look to ramp up output, as long as steel-making remains profitable.

Benchmark Shanghai rebar prices have lost 5 % in the past three weeks to 3,706 yuan a tonne, reflecting some easing in demand from downstream sectors.