METALS-Copper slips on uncertainty over Chinese demand

Wed Jun 26, 2013 12:57pm EDT

* China central bank assurance fails to calm jitters

* Aluminium stocks hit another record on LME

* Lower price levels boosts buyers' hedging activity

By Harpreet Bhal and Silvia Antonioli

LONDON, June 26 (Reuters) - Copper slipped on Wednesday on concerns about the outlook for demand from top consumer China as moves by the country's central bank to ease fears of a credit crunch failed to fully reassure investors.

Also hitting sentiment were growing expectations that improving U.S. economic conditions could prompt the Federal Reserve to rein in its stimulus programme, which has helped commodities.

Such concerns were only partially offset by comments from Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, who reiterated on Wednesday that an ECB exit from its loose monetary policy remains distant.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange closed at $6,735 per tonne, one percent down from Tuesday's close of $6,805.

Copper, used in power and construction, fell almost 4 percent last week, its biggest weekly drop since mid April, and has already more than one percent this week.

"The potential scaling back of stimulus measures (by the U.S. Fed) and discouraging signs out of China have been a drag on metals prices across the board," said Ross Strachan, economist at Capital Economics.

"Looking at fundamentals it would suggest that there is further downside for copper. We expect prices to fall below $6,000 a tonne next year due to additional mine supply and the weak state of demand."

Demand from China accounts for around 40 percent of global copper consumption.

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) said late on Tuesday it had provided cash to some institutions facing temporary shortages and would continue to do so if needed.

Copper hit a three-year low early this week, pressured by worries that China's central bank was engineering a tightening of cash in a bid to rein in excessive credit growth.

That steep fall was mainly driven by financial investors opening short positions but the lower prices are now attracting more industrial buyers, according to Commerzbank.

"The price fall was exaggerated so some market players see these lower price as a long-term buying opportunity. Hedging activity has clearly increased in the last few days as these lower prices are attractive," said Commerzbank analyst Daniel Briesemann.

"Below 7,000 we see a stronger increase in buying interest so copper may still be able to rise quite markedly by the end of the year."

In other metals, aluminium closed at $1,771 a tonne, from Tuesday's finish of $1,784. Aluminium stocks in London Metal Exchange warehouses hit a fresh record high of 5.448 million tonnes, data showed.

Zinc closed at $1,838 a tonne from $1,848.50, lead at $2,031 from $2,055 and nickel at $13,605 from $13,930. Tin ended at $19,700 from $19,875.

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