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China's VAT cuts from April 1 set to boost commodities demand

China's announcement Friday that April 1 will be the implementation date for value-added tax cuts aimed at stimulating manufacturing activity and lowering input costs for companies drew a positive response from commodities market players.

Beijing unveiled stimulus policies on March 5 including VAT cuts in manufacturing to 13% from 16%, and for transportation and construction sectors to 9% from 10%.

In general market sources were optimistic after the announcement, saying it increased certainty around Beijing's stimulus measures, although some traders said the impact had already been factored into benchmark prices.

In addition, some noted that there could be a negative impact on prompt cargo sales and stockpiling this month.

"Overall, the widely expected stimulus programs announced by Premier Li will help improve the business environment and boost demand of oil products, particularly gasoline and diesel, and car sales in China," Kang Wu, head of S&P Global Analytics Asia, said.

The thermal coal market will benefit from a VAT cut of 3 percentage points to 13% as it will help lower costs for end-users like power plants, with China aiming to reduce electricity prices for industrial usage by 10%, traders said.

"Tax is included in our costs, so now seaborne coal traders will also be able to lower their offers to Chinese buyers after the reduction," a Singapore-based coal trader said.

VAT cuts for manufacturing could boost Chinese demand for steel and raw materials, although incremental demand growth for steel wouldn't show until the second half of 2019, according to executives at Chinese steel mills and Australian iron ore companies.

Manufacturing accounts for roughly 29% of Chinese GDP, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, and around 30% of the country's steel consumption.

Iron ore seaborne cargoes are expected to be more competitive in the short term, sources said. The new VAT will apply to iron ore cargoes arriving in China from April, and end-users are deferring some seaborne purchases to April arrival to cut costs.

"Considering current flat price levels, it means imported iron ore prices will go down by Yuan 20/wmt, or $2.6/dmt, in April," a procurement source in Hebei province said. "Mills with no urgent needs would prefer to wait until April for restocking."

"Seaborne shipments for March arrival would be more difficult to sell after this news," a Singapore-based trader said.

In other metals markets, traders said the tax cut would bring down domestic ferromolybdenum prices closer to international price levels.

Most petroleum products like crude oil, gasoline, gasoil, naphtha, jet fuel and fuel oil will see the VAT reduced to 13% from 16%. VAT for LPG and natural gas will be cut from 10% to 9%.

The VAT cut will also marginally lower fuel costs for retail customers, with gasoline prices dropping to around Yuan 7.8/liter from Yuan 8/liter, a refining source in southern China said.

In petrochemicals, while the VAT cuts could boost butadiene exports from China in the longer run, the immediate impact was muted.

Source: S&P Global Platts

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