* China copper imports surge 35.7 pct in March vs Feb
* ShFE zinc soars 5 pct on supply concerns
* China March aluminium exports rise to 420,000 T (Adds detail; updates prices)
By Melanie Burton
MELBOURNE, April 13 (Reuters) - London copper rose to the highest in almost two weeks on Wednesday and Shanghai metals surged as strong Chinese copper imports in March fanned hopes that the economy in the world’s biggest metals user is improving.
China’s exports in March returned to growth for the first time in nine months, adding to further signs of stabilisation in the world’s second-largest economy that cheered regional investors.
China’s March copper imports hit a record for the month and first quarter imports shot up 30 percent, customs data on Wednesday showed.
The stronger-than-expected import and export growth added to evidence of economic recovery in China, said analyst Helen Lau of Argnonaut Securities in Hong Kong.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange had jumped 0.9 percent to $4,809.50 by 0800 GMT, adding to 2.2-percent gains from the previous session. Prices earlier struck the highest since April 1 at $4,855 a tonne.
Shanghai Futures Exchange copper jumped by as much as 4.1 percent before trimming gains to end at 36,830 yuan ($5,697) a tonne, still up 2.7 percent, with a clean break back above the 200-day moving average brightening its technical picture.
“We were not expecting this,” said a source at a trade house in Singapore. “It looks to me like macro factors are in ascendance. Copper had an important bounce from some technical levels. Onward and upward is probably the path of least resistance.”
China’s imports of copper rose 35.7 percent from a month ago to 570,000 tonnes in March, customs data showed.
But much of that influx was moved into storage. ShFE inventories hit a string of record highs in March.
China’s March aluminium exports also rose after dropping in January and February as low prices caused producers to trim output. It exported 420,000 tonnes of unwrought aluminium and aluminium products in March, up from February’s 280,000 tonnes.
Rising aluminium prices are enticing smelters in top producer China to restart output, a decision that may snuff out the metal’s rally from record lows and stoke global trade tensions.
Shanghai zinc was a star performer, up as much as 5 percent. It made a clear break of the 200-day moving average, which fuelled buying by momentum-following funds, and on worries that its already fragile supply pipeline was narrowing.
Hindustan Zinc’s fourth quarter mined metal production fell 30 pct to 188,000 tonnes, it said this week.
Three month LME copper
Most active ShFE copper
Three month LME aluminium
Most active ShFE aluminium
Three month LME zinc
Most active ShFE zinc
Three month LME lead
Most active ShFE lead
Three month LME nickel
Most active ShFE nickel
Three month LME tin
Most active ShFE tin ($1 = 6.4639 Chinese yuan renminbi) ($1 = 6.4651 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Joseph Radford and Christian Schmollinger)