* Steel futures hit highest since early August
* China Aug iron ore imports hit 19-month high
* Iron ore port stocks jump to 3-1/2-month high
* China cuts banks’ reserve requirement ratios (Recasts with steel rally, adds closing prices and chart)
By Enrico Dela Cruz
MANILA, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Benchmark iron ore prices erased early losses on Monday, tracking a rally in steel futures, driven by China’s move to boost liquidity to shore up its slowing economy and hopes for more stimulus.
The most-traded iron ore on the Dalian Commodity Exchange , for delivery in January 2020, ended up 1.8% at 655.50 yuan ($91.90) a tonne, after slumping as much as 3.6% earlier in the session.
On the Singapore Exchange, the front-month October contract dropped as much as 1.1% to $85.04 a tonne in the morning but turned 3.6% higher in late trade.
China’s central bank said on Friday it would cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves for the third time this year, releasing 900 billion yuan in liquidity to shore up the flagging economy.
Meanwhile, China’s exports unexpectedly fell in August as shipments to the United States slowed sharply, pointing to further weakness in the world’s second-largest economy and underlining a pressing need for more stimulus as the Sino-U.S. trade war escalates.
Iron ore futures traded weaker early in the session after data showed China’s imports of the steelmaking raw material rose in August to a 19-month high, the latest evidence of a continued rebound from recent supply-side issues.
“The continued recovery from recent (supply) disruptions in Australia and Brazil showed in stronger iron ore imports,” an ANZ Research note said.
China increased its iron ore imports in anticipation of stockpiling ahead of China’s National Day holidays in early October, it added.
But the price volatility reflected lingering concerns about demand prospects.
“We remain cautious about iron ore prices going into September in light of the still-uncertain trade outlook, the general malaise still plaguing large swathes of China’s industrial economy and a steadily-improving supply picture, but we don’t see as drastic a fall as what we saw in August,” said Edward Meir, commodity consultant at brokerage INTL FCStone in London.
* China’s iron ore purchases last month totalled 94.85 million tonnes, up 4.2% from 91.02 million tonnes in July, customs data showed, marking the highest level of imports since January 2018.
* The inventory of imported iron ore at Chinese ports rose for the eighth straight week to 126.7 million tonnes - a three-and-a-half-month high, as of Sept. 6, according to data compiled by SteelHome consultancy.
* Benchmark spot 62% iron ore for delivery to China, SH-CCN-IRNOR62 stood at $91 a tonne on Friday, according to data tracked by SteelHome consultancy.
* The most-active construction steel rebar contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange ended up 2.3% at 3,497 yuan a tonne, its highest close since Aug. 5 this year. Hot rolled coil , the steel used in cars and home appliances, jumped 2.8% to 3,528 yuan, its strongest finish since Aug. 1.
* Coking coal rose 1.1% at 1,343.50 yuan a tonne and coke gained 2.1% to 1,963.50 yuan.
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($1 = 7.1328 yuan)
Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Rashmi Aich