BEIJING, May 8 (Reuters) - China, the world's top buyer of iron ore, imported 67.15 million tonnes of the raw material in April, the third highest on record and up 4 percent from March, customs data showed on Wednesday.
Despite signs of weak demand and declining margins, China's steel sector, the world's biggest, continued to produce more than 2 million tonnes a day in April, traditionally the start of the country's peak steel consumption season.
China's average daily crude steel output hit a record high of 2.129 million tonnes over April 21-30, data from the China Iron & Steel Association (CISA) showed.
The industry body warned that steel demand in China was expected to remain weak in May, but said iron ore shipments were unlikely to be seriously affected, with port stockpiles now low.
Despite pessimism in the sector, April imports of iron ore were 16.4 percent higher than a year ago, customs data showed. Over the first four months of the year, total shipments reached 253.63 million tonnes, up 3.7 percent over the same 2012 period.
Prices fell over April, with benchmark 62 percent grade iron ore dipping 2.3 percent during the month, according to data provider the Steel Index.
In its monthly review of the market, Steel Index said market activity increased in late April as sellers sought to offload cargo ahead of the Labour Day holidays at the start of May.
Major iron ore buyers in China remain cautious, however.
'Low or negative profitability has also meant that mills continue to pursue a cautious strategy of holding low inventory and buying only small volumes of iron ore when needed,' the Steel Index said.
China exported 5.55 million tonnes of steel products in April, up 5.1 percent from the previous month, the General Administration of Customs said.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Clarence Fernandez) Keywords: CHINA TRADE/IRONORE
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