COMMODITIES-Copper, raw sugar rally; fiscal cliff weighs on rest
* Stalemate over U.S. budget drags weigh on markets
* Copper hits 1-week high on bullish China data
* Raw sugar at 3-wk peak as dealers sell short positions
NEW YORK, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Copper hit one-week highs on Thursday on encouraging data from top metals buyer China and sugar rallied too, but most other commodities saw little change they reopened from the Christmas break to news that U.S. budget talks were still in a stalemate. Oil closed slightly lower in choppy trading as U.S. politicians assured they were working to resolve the so-called U.S. "fiscal cliff", although there was no certainty of a deal before the year-end to avert punitive tax hikes and spending cuts for most Americans in 2013. Gold prices rose for a fourth straight day for their longest winning stretch in nearly two months, but the gains were small for a market seen as a key hedge to the U.S. fiscal crisis, dealers said. Agricultural markets such as wheat, corn and soybeans also saw slight price moves, bogged down by U.S. budget worries.
Raw sugar was one of the few outperformers, rising more than 2 percent to a 3-week high, as funds sold their short positions for profit, pushing the market higher. Cocoa fell more than 1 percent, touching multi-month lows on technical selling.
TRADING CRIMPED BY FISCAL CRISIS, HOLIDAY SEASON Trading across commodities remained tepid as the Christmas break ended for the U.S. and U.K. markets and the remaining holiday stretch toward the New Year began. Volume in U.S. crude oil was 40 percent lower than the 30-day average, with traders blaming the inaction over the U.S. fiscal crisis as much a reason as the holiday season. "We continue to find it difficult to have a directional position in a low-volume environment in front of the fiscal cliff uncertainty," said Olivier Jacob, an energy market consultant at Petromatrix in Zug, Switzerland. The United States faces $109 billion in across-the-board spending cuts starting in January unless a deal is reached to either replace or delay them. Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, want to switch the spending cuts to tax increases for the most part -- a plan opposed by Republicans led by John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Congress will hold a work session on Sunday beginning at 6:30 p.m. EST (2330 GMT), a day before the Dec. 31 deadline for the fiscal cliff, to try and reach a deal. London's Brent crude oil fell 27 cents to close at $110.80 a barrel. U.S. crude dipped 11 cents to settle at $90.87.
COPPER SURGES ON CHINA INDUSTRIAL PROFITS Copper jumped to its highest price since Dec. 19 after data from Beijing showed that profits earned by China's industrial companies rose 22.8 percent in November from a year ago, accelerating from October's 20.5 percent hike. China accounts for about 40 percent of the global copper consumption. "It's not only this one data point; we have seen a series of data releases lately that were quite encouraging. Everything points to the fact that the Chinese economy has probably hit the bottom and is now on the way to a very moderate acceleration. At least it's getting better, and this is good for cyclical markets like metals," said Credit Suisse analyst Tobias Merath. Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange closed at $7,915 a tonne, up more than 1 percent from its $7,801 official price in the final ring trade of a holiday-shortened session on Monday. Sugar reached a peak not seen in New York trading since Dec. 6 as dealers sold short positions for profit, sending prices higher. March raw sugar on ICE Futures U.S. settled up 0.40 cent, or 2.1 percent, at 19.45 cents a lb, after a hitting 3-week high at 19.55 cents.
Prices at 5:05 p.m. EST (2205 GMT)
LAST/ NET PCT YTD CLOSE CHG CHG CHG US crude 90.75 2.14 2.4% -8.2% Brent crude 110.81 2.01 1.9% 3.2% Natural gas 3.354 -0.038 -1.1% 12.2%US gold 1663.70 3.00 0.2% 6.2% Gold 1663.54 0.25 0.0% 6.4% US Copper 360.10 0.35 0.1% 4.8% LME Copper 7915.00 105.00 1.3% 4.1% Dollar 79.638 0.017 0.0% -0.7%US corn 691.50 -1.75 -0.3% 7.0% US soybeans 1418.75 -5.75 -0.4% 18.4% US wheat 772.25 -2.25 -0.3% 18.3%US Coffee 147.90 -0.40 -0.3% -35.2% US Cocoa 2255.00 -8.00 -0.4% 6.9% US Sugar 19.45 0.40 2.1% -16.3%US silver 30.240 0.205 0.7% 8.3% US platinum 1531.80 -3.10 -0.2% 9.0% US palladium 708.50 16.10 2.3% 8.0%