METALS-Copper climbs on strong euro and ending to Asian holiday

Thu Feb 6, 2014 12:07pm EST

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By Susan Thomas and Melanie Burton

LONDON/SYDNEY, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Copper firmed on Thursday on a stronger euro, expectations of a pickup in prices when top consumer China returns from holiday on Friday and relative calm in volatile emerging markets.

Copper hit fresh session highs, edging away from two-month lows hit earlier this week, and aluminium moved into positive territory after the euro strengthened against the dollar.

A stronger euro makes commodities priced in dollars less expensive for buyers in Europe.

The euro got a boost following comments by the chief of the European Central Bank that gave no hint of imminent monetary policy easing and after the ECB left rates unchanged.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange closed at $7,130 a tonne after touching a session high of $7,120. Prices hit a two-month low on Tuesday at $7,016 and are down around 4 percent on the year.

Copper prices had fallen for nine sessions from Jan. 21 on evidence that China's factories had a slow start to the year, and after fitful U.S. growth data.

But a brightening U.S. service sector and generally improving manufacturing health elsewhere in Asia, and in Europe have soothed investors' concerns.

Data on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week, in a boost to the labour market outlook and the broader economy.

The capital-hungry emerging markets of Turkey, South Africa and India have also regained some composure, after a rout that drew investors away from so-called risk assets like base metals and into safe-haven investments.

"I think maybe today's slight strength is anticipation of China markets opening overnight, and the default assumption is the because China is a net buyer of copper there may be some bargain hunting, since prices are fair bit down from when (China) closed last week," BNP Paribas analyst Stephen Briggs said. "The emerging markets have also stabilised somewhat."

China's stock, bond, foreign exchange and commodity futures markets reopen on Friday after the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

After the holiday, manufacturing activity in China begins to rise for what is normally the most robust quarter of the year.

"If manufacturing picks up seasonally, the fundamental factors are aligned for at least a modest pick up in prices," Singapore-based analyst Sijin Cheng of Barclays said.

China's factories are lightly stocked given copper imports were uneconomic in January when LME prices shot to seven month peaks.

Wiktor Bielski, head of commodities research at VTB Capital, said Chinese buying after the new year holiday was likely to be muted.

"The copper market is a little better supplied in the very short term. My guess is they will try to do what they've done in the past two years and not come out buying aggressively as soon as the new year holidays are finished."

LME nickel climbed more than 1 percent, closing at £13,970 a tonne from $13,775 at the close on Wednesday. Indonesia's government has banned exports of unprocessed minerals, including nickel.

"I think the market assumption is that there is going to be some easing of the restrictions," Briggs said. "There are no signs of that at the moment. As things stand the government in Indonesia is talking tough."

Aluminium closed at $1,713 a tonne from $1,701, zinc at $1,998 from $1,968, lead at $2,118 from $2,097 and tin at $22,110 from $22,075.

PRICES

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

Three month LME tin (Additional reporting by Eric Onstad; Editing by William Hardy and David Evans)

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