SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's main commodities imports likely eased from record levels last month due to a week-long holiday in October, but shipments of crude oil, copper and iron ore are still expected to post strong annual growth as economic recovery gathers pace.
Import demand for crude oil, copper and soybeans is seen staying elevated through the rest of the year, as an invigorated manufacturing sector boosts consumption by refineries, smelters and crushers, traders and analysts said.
The world's top commodity buyer is showing signs of a stabilizing economy after growth had slowed for nine of the past 10 quarters. Two surveys this month showed manufacturing was on a stronger footing and expanding at its fastest rate in at least seven months.
Preliminary trade data is due out on Friday between 0200 and 0300 GMT.
China's headline exports are forecast to have rebounded in October after a surprise fall in September, reinforcing the government's view that the economy has regained some momentum as its prepares to unveil plans for an economic overhaul at the third plenary session on November 9-12.
Crude oil imports from China, which overtook the United States to be the world's top net importer in September, likely fell in October after hitting a record high of 6.25 million barrels per day in September, traders said.
Stockpiling may have eased in October after China's commercial crude oil inventories jumped more than 10 percent in the previous two months.
Traders said it was hard to tell if refinery run rates would recover in October, after falling 1.2 percent on a year ago in the preceding month, as two major refineries had began maintenance work just as a few other plants returned on-stream.
Sinopec's 500,000-bpd Maoming refinery in the southern province of Guangdong and 240,000-bpd Fujian refinery in southeastern Fujian province both shut down from mid-October for 50-55 days maintenance.
China's iron ore imports in October are expected to ease from a record high in September, when shipments jumped 15 percent on a year earlier to 74.58 million tonnes (1.1023 ton).
Buying interest from China, the world's top steelmaker, has slowed after the week-long National Day holiday due to tepid steel demand and weak prices.
Still, shipments are expected to stay at elevated levels due to the arrival of earlier booked cargoes, traders said. Compared to a year ago, miners have also boosted shipments from their newly expanded mines.
Iron ore exports to China from Australia's Port Hedland, which handles about a fifth of the global seaborne market, rose 10 percent to 25.2 million tonnes in October from September, setting a record.
On a monthly basis, traders expect iron ore shipments to decline through the rest of this year as steel mills have begun curbing production and have been running down iron ore inventories at the ports.
Copper imports in October are expected to hover near an 18-month high posted in September thanks to strong financing demand, trading sources said.
Growing demand from firms to use copper as collateral for short-term loans, plus easier lending rules at banks, were encouraging some importers to book higher term volumes.
Some local banks, eager to expand their loan business, have started to allow Chinese firms to use copper stored in LME warehouses as collateral for loans. Others only allow copper in short-term storage in bonded warehouses, traders said
China, the world's top soybean buyer, will see soy arrivals in October at 4.27 million tonnes, down from 4.7 million tonnes in September, think-tank CNGOIC predicted.
Imports fell in September on lower supplies from key overseas markets but are set to climb again this month, with arrivals due in November forecast at 6.5 million tonnes, CNGOIC said in a report on Wednesday.
Imports are due to surge after crushers sought to replenish supplies and profit from cheap beans from overseas.
"The Chinese market was tight and there were no soybeans on the market so they were pursuing more shipments," said an official at the think-tank.
CNGOIC sees December arrivals at 6 million tonnes, and imports for the whole year of 2013 at 62.5 million tonnes.
(Reporting by China Commodities & Energy Team; Editing by Richard Pullin)