* Steel demand may pick up in March, supply still high
* China crude steel output up 4.3 pct y/y in Jan
* Hot-rolled coil demand sliding as car sales slow (Adds closing prices, milestones, graphic)
By Enrico Dela Cruz
MANILA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Chinese iron ore and steel futures rose on Thursday, supported by expectations that construction activities in the world’s second-largest economy would gather steam starting next month, boosting demand for the commodities.
The most-traded iron ore contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange for May delivery gained 2 percent to close at 609.5 yuan ($91.21) a tonne. It rose in three of the last four sessions and posted its third consecutive monthly gain.
The contract, however, has pulled back by about 8 percent after a rally fuelled by supply concerns had propelled it to a record 657.5 yuan on Feb. 12, in the wake of top miner Vale SA’s disastrous tailings dam burst in Brazil last month.
“The weather is getting warmer so I think the steel demand in the construction sector will recover from next month, but not strongly,” said a trader at Rizhao Huaxin International Trade in Shandong province.
Steel inventories in China remained “very high”, the trader said.
Steel demand has been slow in China since the latter part of 2018 as many construction projects were halted amid the cold weather and with the Chinese economy losing steam.
However, supply in the world’s top steel producer and consumer remained plentiful notwithstanding output curbs intended to fight pollution.
China, which produces half the world’s steel, had crude steel output of 928.3 million tonnes last year. Its output in January rose 4.3 percent from a year earlier to 75.0 million tonnes, according to data from the World Steel Association.
Iron ore inventories at Chinese ports SH-TOT-IRONINV currently stand at 145.05 million tonnes, according to SteelHome consultancy, the highest level since Sept. 21, 2018.
The most-active construction steel rebar contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, for May delivery, ended a volatile trade up 0.6 percent at 3,750 yuan.
The contract has risen 10 percent this year, and also posted its third monthly gain, supported by optimism that China’s economic stimulus measures would boost steel demand.
Hot-rolled coil ended 1 percent higher at 3,778 yuan, after swinging between losses and gains.
Hot-rolled coil, steel that is heat-processed into metal sheets used for car bodies and household appliances, was a steady profit driver for mills but orders are now slowing down as China’s auto sector contracts.
Coking coal ended 0.4 percent lower at 1,296 yuan a tonne, while coke slipped 0.4 percent to 2,124.5 yuan.
($1 = 6.6826 Chinese yuan)
Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Sherry Jacob-Phillips