* HSBC China flash PMI falls to 7-mth low of 49.6 * Worries of early end to bond buying also hurt sentiment * Coming Up; Euro zone Markit Manufacturing Flash PMI at 0758 GMT By Melanie Burton SINGAPORE, May 23 London copper fell as much as 3 percent on Thursday after a preliminary survey showed China's factory sector contracted in May, hitting sentiment already soured by concerns the United States may pull back on its bond-buying program. China's factory activity shrank for the first time in seven months in May as new orders fell, the survey of purchasing managers showed, adding to concerns that a recovery in the world's second-largest economy is sputtering. "A reading under 50 is certainly not a good omen and weaker than what we would have expected," said Matt Fusarelli, analyst at consultancy AME Group in Sydney. China is the world's top copper consumer, accounting for 40 percent of refined demand. Also hurting sentiment were fears about the U.S. Federal Reserve ending its bond-buying program earlier than expected, eroding liquidity and investment capital available for metals. "For so long people have taken for granted that money will be free. But as soon as it's not free, then that's when we are going to see big ruction in metals markets," Fusarelli added. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday a decision to scale back the $85 billion in bonds the central bank is buying each month could come at one of its "next few meetings" if the economy looked set to maintain momentum. Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was down 2.7 percent to $7,270.75 a tonne by 0703 GMT, erasing gains from the previous session when it hit a six-week high of $7,533.75. It touched an intraday low of $7,250. Other base metals also fell, with nickel, zinc and lead all down nearly 2 percent each and aluminium off 1.4 percent. The most-traded September copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange lost 2.1 percent to close at 52,350 yuan ($8,500) a tonne. A series of mining accidents and plant shutdowns this year have pushed copper's supply back into the spotlight, supporting prices. The global market for copper is expected to swing into a small surplus this year after several years of deficit. Last week's shutdown at the world's second-largest copper mine run by Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc in Indonesia will extend until the company is convinced of the mine's safety, it said. A landslide at Rio Tinto's mine in Utah had also cut production. India's top copper smelter, run by Sterlite Industries , also remains shut as a court continues hearing into complaints of emissions. Base metals prices at 0703 GMT Metal Last Change Pct Move YTD pct chg LME Cu 7270.75 -204.25 -2.73 -8.30 SHFE CU FUT SEP3 52350 -1130 -2.11 -9.24 HG COPPER JUL3 329.40 -8.65 -2.56 -9.82 LME Alum 1858.00 -26.00 -1.38 -10.28 SHFE AL FUT SEP3 14615 -20 -0.14 -4.76 LME Zinc 1848.25 -32.75 -1.74 -10.43 LME Nickel 14898.00 -272.00 -1.79 -13.16 LME Lead 2018.50 -38.50 -1.87 -13.74 SHFE PB FUT 13975.00 -35.00 -0.25 -8.36 LME Tin 21197.00 -278.00 -1.29 -9.41 LME/Shanghai arb^ -272 Shanghai and COMEX contracts show most active months ^ LME 3-month copper in yuan, including 17 pct VAT, minus SHFE third month
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