Copper slips as investors pocket gains from rally

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LONDON, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Copper prices wilted on Friday as risk-off sentiment swept financial markets and investors took the opportunity to lock in profits after two days of rallying prices.

On a zig-zag day, copper rebounded as some investors sought protection against rising inflation, but lost steam again in the evening.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange had shed 0.5% to $9,937 a tonne by 1730 GMT, retreating below the $10,000 a tonne mark.

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U.S. Comex March copper dropped 1.4% to $4.52 a lb.

"We're running into some profit taking following that strong run-up and it's also because we've got risk-off sentiment in the stock market," said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank in Copenhagen.

Risk aversion dominated financial markets as stocks slumped in Europe, Wall Street slipped, oil prices fell and bond prices surged with traders scurrying for the relative safety of government debt.

But Hansen expected copper to resume its rally as investors rotate out of other asset classes.

"What we're facing is rising inflation and potentially weaker growth so I'd rather be in commodities right now than in stocks or bonds."

The dollar index was weaker, making commodities priced in the U.S. currency cheaper for buyers using other currencies.

Copper, often used as a gauge of global economic health, was nonetheless on track for a weekly gain of more than 2%, having been supported by supply concerns, low inventories at exchange warehouses, and a series of monetary easing measures in top consumer China. read more

Copper's most-traded March contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange ended daytime trading 0.6% higher at 71,290 yuan ($11,246.61) a tonne.

* Shanghai nickel rose as much as 5.2% to a record 179,780 yuan a tonne and LME nickel advanced 1% to $24,028 a tonne. It touched $24,435 in the previous session, its highest since August 2011.

* LME aluminium shed 2.6% to $3,030 a tonne and zinc dipped 0.1% to $3,646, but lead gained 0.6% to $2,363.

Tin slipped 0.3% to $43,350 after touching a fresh record of $44,200.

* Leftist President-elect Gabriel Boric in the world's top copper producing nation Chile unveiled a moderate first cabinet on Friday. He appointed lawmaker Marcela Hernando in the key role of mining minister. read more

* LME Chief Executive Matt Chamberlain will step down in April and take the top job at cryptocurrencies firm Komainu.

($1 = 6.3388 yuan)

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Additional reporting by Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru and Enrico Dela Cruz in Manila; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Jan Harvey and Louise Heavens

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