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 Asia Rubber-China Chases Prices Up; Tyre Grades Sold above $3

Chinese firms bought tyre rubber grades for more than $3 a kg ahead of the Lunar New Year and other companies stepped up purchases before the dry winter season curbs supplies, dealers said on Thursday.

Dryer weather has started in parts of Thailand, the world's largest producer, while leaves have turned yellow in Indonesia's main growing island of Sumatra, indicating that rubber trees will produce less latex soon, they said. Thai RSS3, Indonesian SIR20 and Malaysia's SMR20 grades changed hands at between $3 and $3.06 a kg for nearby shipment in active trade late on Wednesday, although prices had gone up as much as 2 percent in the past week.

"We've got a March cargo that traded at 137 U.S. cents/lb ($3.01/kg) with sizeable buyers from China. I think they are short for nearby supplies and need to buy," said a dealer in Singapore, who buys rubber from Indonesian and sells it to China. "In Europe and the U.S., prices increased to 137.5 cents," he added. Sumatran-based dealers said SIR20 was also traded at 136.50 U.S. cents per pound, 137.25 and 137.75 free on board Palembang, Belawan and Surabaya. "Buyers are very active and Hankook is also the market," said a dealer in Sumatra, referring to Hankook Tire Co Ltd, the world's No.7 tyre maker. "It looks like inventories are depleting in China. They are turning to Indonesia for supply, maybe because our price is more attractive than Thai or Malaysian grades," he added. Deliverable rubber inventories in Shanghai fell to 141,951 tonnes in the week ending Jan. 28 from 151,832 tonnes the week before, and stocks on warrant fell 20,200 tonnes from a week earlier to 103,905 tonnes, the Shanghai Futures Exchange said.

Dealers said China's purchases would pick up before factories close for the Lunar New Year holidays in the middle of February. China imported 1.71 million tonnes of natural rubber in 2009, up 1.74 percent from the previous year, customs data showed. In addition to purchases from China, dealers said Japan's largest tyre maker, Bridgestone Corp , bought Thai RSS3 at $3.06 a kg for nearby shipment, while STR20 was also sold at the same price to Singapore dealers. "China may be looking for the Indonesian grades because they have been quiet on our side," said a dealer in Thailand's southern city of Hat Yai. "But I think overall demand is still quite good for nearby shipment," he added. SMR20 changed hands at $3.03 a kg but there were no details on buyers. Steady demand helped the physical market defy pressure from the Tokyo futures, which slipped on Thursday due to higher yen and weaker oil prices.