* Falls limited by better-than-expected German ZEW data
* Traders say China post-holiday buying may yet emerge
* Nickel biggest loser, falls 2.6 percent
By Maytaal Angel and Eric Onstad
LONDON, Feb 19 Copper hit a three-week low on Tuesday, depressed
by unease over top consumer China's limp return to the market from a week-long
holiday, although losses were limited by better-than-expected German investor
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange slipped 0.6 percent
to $8,070 a tonne by 1623 GMT, erasing early gains to hit an intraday low of
$8,061.50, the weakest since Jan. 29. Nickel, tin and zinc also hit multi-week
Copper prices have built a base above $8,000 this year but have failed to
find traction above $8,346 a tonne, a four-month peak hit early this month.
Volumes were expected to pick up as U.S. traders returned on Tuesday from the
Presidents' Day holiday.
Chinese traders reported low overall post-holiday interest in the metal,
weighing on prices, though some purchases had been completed that narrowed
Shanghai's price discount to London cash copper to $80 from about $200
pre-holiday. China consumes about 40 percent of the world's copper.
"We need to see more substance in terms of underlying demand if the run up
in prices is to be sustained. All eyes were on the return of the Chinese. It's
still early to say but yes, it's been a no show so far," said Macquarie analyst
"Also there are reports circulating that the Chinese government may start to
tighten (monetary policy)."
There was also concern that Beijing and Hong Kong would launch more curbs to
cool rising property prices, which weighed on shares there.
There were still hopes among traders that post-holiday buying might yet
resume. "A lot of Chinese guys are still out. We might get a bit more action
when Chinese New Year officially finishes with the Lantern Festival on the
24th," a Singapore-based trader said.
Limiting falls, however, was data showing better-than-expected ZEW economic
sentiment in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, which helped push European
"Over the balance of this week, we could see the softer tone in metals
remain in place," INTL FCStone said.
"We have yet to see the Japanese economy recovering in any significant
fashion, and while China's growth is ramping up, it is largely on account of
over reliance on a dominant government sector," it said in a note.
NICKEL BIGGEST LOSER
In other metals, stainless-steel ingredient nickel was the biggest
loser, falling 2.6 percent to $17,390 a tonne, having earlier hit its lowest
since Jan. 28 at $17,350.
"Nickel has struggled more than most... Interestingly, on-warrant nickel
stocks climbed by 3,528 tonnes this morning," Leon Westgate at Standard Bank
said in a note.
Aluminium shed 0.64 percent to $2,103.50 a tonne and open interest
data showed a drop of 13,117 lots on Monday, indicating that
investors holding long positions have been liquidating contracts.
Soldering metal tin fell 1.85 percent to $23,850 a tonne after
hitting its lowest since Jan. 7 at $23,750, and zinc, used in
galvanizing, lost 0.66 percent to $2,140.75 a tonne, having earlier hit its
lowest since Feb. 1 at $2,138.
Battery material lead fell 0.7 percent to $2,373.25 a tonne.
Metal Prices at 1630 GMT
Comex copper in cents/lb, LME prices in $/T and SHFE prices in yuan/T
Metal Last Change Pct Move End 2012 Ytd Pct
COMEX Cu 365.55 -8.15 -2.18 365.25 0.08
LME Alum 2103.00 -14.00 -0.66 2073.00 1.45
LME Cu 8063.25 -55.75 -0.69 7931.00 1.67
LME Lead 2373.00 -17.00 -0.71 2330.00 1.85
LME Nickel 17382.00 -473.00 -2.65 17060.00 1.89
LME Tin 23840.00 -460.00 -1.89 23400.00 1.88
LME Zinc 2140.75 -14.25 -0.66 2080.00 2.92
SHFE Alu 15090.00 -115.00 -0.76 15435.00 -2.24
SHFE Cu* 58780.00 -390.00 -0.66 57690.00 1.89
SHFE Zin 15785.00 -35.00 -0.22 15625.00 1.02
** Benchmark month for COMEX copper
* 3rd contract month for SHFE AL, CU and ZN
SHFE ZN began trading on 26/3/07