SINGAPORE London copper edged lower on Monday as persistent concerns about sluggish demand in China took the momentum out of a three-day rally, but optimism on the global economy after upbeat U.S. jobs data is likely to cushion the price slide.
Copper rallied about 2 percent on Friday, after better-than-expected U.S. labor market data boosted confidence in the recovery of the world's largest economy, and Greece's success with a debt swap deal eased fears about euro zone debt crisis for the time being.
But the dim prospects of copper consumption in China, as reflected in multi-year high stockpiles in warehouses monitored by the Shanghai Futures Exchange, kept investors wary.
"Theoretically we are in the peak consumption season but it doesn't feel like it this year," said a Shanghai-based physical copper trader, "Factories are not in any rush to stockpile the material, as the overall economic situation has weakened."
Prices below 58,000 yuan a tonne have attracted buying, but the current level was not at all attractive, he added.
China, the world's top consumer of raw materials including copper, has cut its 2012 growth target to an eight-year low of 7.5 percent, dampening hopes that its appetite for these materials would continue to expand rapidly.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange lost 0.3 percent to $8,461 a tonne by 0300 GMT, reversing course after three sessions of consecutive rise.
The most-traded June copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange edged up 0.3 percent to 60,700 yuan ($9,600)a tonne.
Graphic on CFTC commitment of traders:
Even the stronger-than-expected copper imports for February failed to impress copper investors. China's imports of the industrial metal in February jumped 17 percent from January and double from a year earlier to 484,569 tonnes.
But Shanghai copper stocks last week rose to the highest level since July 2002, indicating sluggish physical demand.
"The market lacks fundamentals that can support a strong rally," said Fang Junfeng, an analyst at Shanghai CIFCO Futures.
"The illusion of strong imports in February was created by the distortion of the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in February last year and January this year."
Money managers, including hedge funds and other large speculators, reduced their net length in U.S. copper futures and options by 2,003 lots to 13,615 lots in the week ended March 6.
LME aluminum lost 0.4 percent to $2,232, extending a 3.8-percent slide in the previous week -- its biggest weekly drop since end of November.
Base metals prices at 0300 GMT
Metal Last Change Pct Move YTD pct chg
LME Cu 8461.00 -29.00 -0.34 11.33
SHFE CU FUT JUN2 60700 180 +0.30 9.65
HG COPPER MAY2 384.85 -1.00 -0.26 12.01
LME Alum 2232.00 -8.00 -0.36 10.50
SHFE AL FUT JUN2 16290 -20 -0.12 2.81
LME Zinc 2066.50 -3.50 -0.17 12.01
SHFE ZN FUT JUN2 15885 -05 -0.03 7.37
LME Nickel 19225.00 -75.00 -0.39 2.75
LME Lead 2125.00 5.00 +0.24 4.42
SHFE PB FUT 15975.00 -45.00 -0.28 4.51
LME Tin 22810.00 -390.00 -1.68 18.80
LME/Shanghai arb^ 2044
Shanghai and COMEX contracts show most active months
^ LME 3-month copper in yuan, including 17 pct VAT, minus SHFE third month
($1 = 6.3107 Chinese yuan)
(Editing by Michael Perry)