December 21, 2012 / 11:06 AM / 5 years ago

METALS-Copper rises after steep fall, US budget fears remain

* Volumes low as year-end holiday season draws near
    * U.S. budget talks prompt uncertainty
    * U.S. consumer spending rises by most in three years

    By Harpreet Bhal
    LONDON, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Copper prices rose on Friday, recovering from
steep falls in the previous session, although investors remained nervous that
the United States would not be able to avert a fiscal crisis, which could push
the world's largest economy into recession. 
    Trading volumes were thin, however, as markets wound down for the year-end
holiday season. 
    Investors have been closely watching talks in recent weeks between the White
House and Republican lawmakers to avert the "fiscal cliff" - $600 billion worth
of tax hikes and spending cuts that are set to be triggered in the new year.  
    In the latest move, a proposal from Republican leader John Boehner to avoid
the cliff failed to get support from his party, casting fresh uncertainty over
the talks. 
    "You're likely to see a resolution to that relatively soon ... but with the
latest uncertain developments overnight, you could see market jitters increase,
and I would expect that to be negative for industrial metals," Ross Strachan, an
economist at Capital Economics, said.
    Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) closed at
$7,831.5 a tonne, up from a close of $7,772 on Thursday when it hit a three-week
intraday low of $7,735 a tonne.
    Since a price rally of almost 8 percent from mid-November to a near
two-month high on Dec. 12, momentum has begun to fade as traders have been
cutting risk and squaring positions ahead of the year-end. The metal is up 2.4
percent so far this year.
    "We expect liquidity to be reduced today as a number of players are already
on holiday, and that will only be worse next week when half the market is away.
Price moves in either direction are likely to be exaggerated as a result," RBC
said in a research note.
    On a positive note, the U.S. economy showed surprising signs of economic
resilience in November, given the approach of the fiscal cliff, as consumer
spending rose by the most in three years and a gauge of business investment
    Looking ahead to 2013, Strachan said investors are likely to focus on the
outlook for demand from China, which has remained soft this year.
    "There has been a recovery in the Chinese economy, but it is weaker than
many seem to believe. We think Chinese demand (for copper) is going to be much
weaker than people expect because of the high stock levels," Strachan said. 
    In China, the world's top copper consumer, stocks in bonded warehouses have
swelled due to weak domestic demand and could dampen the country's appetite for
imports in coming months. 
    China imported 250,666 tonnes of refined copper in November, down 27 percent
from a year earlier, although imports over the 10 months to end-November were
still up 30 percent on the year at 3.16 million tonnes. 
    In other metals, aluminium closed at $2,082 from a last bid of
$2,060 on Thursday. It is on course for its biggest weekly loss in more than two
    Japan's aluminium premiums for January-March shipments were mostly set at
$240 to $245 per tonne, down from a record in the current
quarter, sources said. 
    Zinc, untraded at the close, was last bid at $2,082 from Thursday's
close of $2,071 a tonne, while lead closed at $2,307 from $2,325.
    The latest data showed lead stocks in warehouses monitored by the LME
continued to point to a falling trend, which began in late November. Stocks are
down 9 percent or 31,725 tonnes this month to 330,550 tonnes.
    Nickel closed at $17,350 per tonne from $17,575 and tin at
$23,225 from a last bid of $23,345.
 Metal Prices at 1718 GMT
 Comex copper in cents/lb, LME prices in $/T and SHFE prices in yuan/T
  Metal            Last      Change  Pct Move   End 2011   Ytd Pct
  COMEX Cu       355.50        3.00     +0.85     344.75      3.12
  LME Alum      2085.25        0.25     +0.01    2020.00      3.23
  LME Cu        7836.25       64.25     +0.83    7600.00      3.11
  LME Lead      2302.50      -22.50     -0.97    2034.00     13.20
  LME Nickel   17388.00     -187.00     -1.06   18650.00     -6.77
  LME Tin      23215.00     -285.00     -1.21   19200.00     20.91
  LME Zinc      2077.50        6.50     +0.31    1845.00     12.60
  SHFE Alu     15260.00       10.00     +0.07   15845.00     -3.69
  SHFE Cu*     56740.00     -130.00     -0.23   55360.00      2.49
  SHFE Zin     15385.00       10.00     +0.07   14795.00      3.99
 ** Benchmark month for COMEX copper
 * 3rd contract month for SHFE AL, CU and ZN
 SHFE ZN began trading on 26/3/07

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