China's pull on refined metal from the rest of the world was much diminished in the first half of this year.
Financial demand for metal as collateral against loans has been much diminished since the Qingdao port scandal in the middle of last year.
Manufacturing demand, meanwhile, has also softened in tandem with the broader slowdown in the Chinese economy to the point that analysts at Goldman Sachs argue that metals demand has experienced a "hard" landing in the first part of this year.("Revealing China's Commodity 'Hard Landing'", July 20, 2015).
The stand-out exception to the first-half picture of slowing imports was nickel.
Even here, though, there is sufficient ambiguity to be wary about extrapolating a trend from June's bumper imports.
Net imports of refined nickel more than doubled to 78,100 tonnes in the first six months of 2015.
In truth, imports had been running at pretty humdrum levels until June, when they went stratospheric. June's imports of 38,800 tonnes were the third highest monthly tally on record after June and July 2009.
This, it's worth remembering, is exactly what nickel bulls had been hoping to see.
Imports of nickel raw materials are still falling, down 37 percent in the first half, with flows of Philippine ore failing to fully fill the gap left by the Indonesian ban on exports.
The pressures on China's nickel pig iron (NPI) producers are building as inventories of Indonesian ore run down and the current low price environment forces out marginal operators.
Logically, the less nickel China produces, the more it will need to import, which is why bulls have seized on the latest figures as a sign of things to come.
This process has already been playing out in ferronickel, a cheaper and more obvious NPI substitute for stainless steel mills.
Ferronickel imports also more than doubled in the first half of this year and were running at a record pace of over 60,000 tonnes per month in both May and June.
So is that import demand now spilling into the refined metal market, offering bulls the tantalising hope that the seemingly endless rise in London Metal Exchange stocks might be about to turn?
The answer right now is only maybe.
June may yet turn out to be something of an outlier month with surging refined nickel imports reflecting factors other than pent-up manufacturing demand.
It's noticeable, for example, that imports from Russia at 21,700 tonnes hit an all-time high.
And that may have reflected the well-flagged delivery issues around the recently-launched nickel contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE).http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/24/china-imports-ahome-idUSL5N1032P720150724