Copper up on China demand optimism

Copper prices have climbed as funds bought on growing expectations of stronger demand from top consumer China, but a higher US dollar ahead of Wednesday’s decision on US interest rates by the Federal Reserve caps gains.

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The benchmark copper contract on the London Metal Exchange ended up 0.4 per cent at $US5,820 a tonne, nearly 3 per cent above the two-month low at $US5,652 hit last week.

Traders said buying after the New York open helped copper to reverse early losses.

China issued data on Tuesday showing the economy got off to a strong start this year, supported by bank lending, infrastructure spending and a much-needed resurgence in private investment.

China accounts for just under half of global copper demand, which is estimated at around 23 million tonnes this year.

“A lot will depend on what the Fed does, but the demand signals from China are improving, the data was positive,” Citi analyst David Wilson said.

The Fed’s two-day meeting is expected to conclude on Wednesday with a rate rise, which could boost the US currency, making dollar-denominated metals more expensive for non-US firms and potentially weaken demand.

However, copper has been supported for some time by disruptions to output in Chile and Peru due to strikes and in Indonesia, where the government has halted exports of copper concentrate from Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg mine.

“Supply-side issues should continue to support metal prices; however investors are likely to remain cautious leading into the FOMC (Fed) meeting and other key economic releases,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

The three-month nickel price gained 0.7 per cent to $US10,230 a tonne, underpinned by the prospects of a full-scale mining ban in the Philippines, the world’s top exporter of nickel ore.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte accused some miners of funding efforts to destabilise his government and he talked about a possible plan to impose a ban on mining given the environmental damage producers have caused.

Aluminium fell 1.2 per cent to $US1,860, zinc rose 0.2 per cent to $US2,749.5, lead slid 2.2 per cent to $US2,223.5 and tin gained 2.7 per cent to $US19,970.