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METALS-Copper steady as Chinese imports offset U.S. demand worry

Susan Thomas
Friday, 8 Nov 2013 | 7:00 AM ET

* China's Oct copper imports down on month but up on year

* Nickel biggest loser on week, set for 4 pct weekly drop

* Coming Up: U.S. nonfarm payrolls at 1330 GMT

LONDON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Copper was steady on Friday as solid imports of the metal into top consumer China offset concerns about fragile U.S. and European economic growth.

Volume was thin as traders waited for a U.S. labour report later in the day that may sway expectations on the timing of a reduction in the Federal Reserve's huge bond-buying programme, as well as a weekend Chinese leadership meeting that may offer clues on economic policy.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was $7,142 a tonne at 1139 GMT, almost flat from Thursday's close. Prices have slid around 1.3 percent this week, putting copper on course for its weakest performance since the week to Sept. 13.

China's copper imports in October were up 26.4 percent from October 2012, although they fell 11.2 percent from September, when they hit an 18-month high.

"October was a holiday month (in China), so the fact that imports were only down slightly was quite impressive, and they have increased very strongly on a year-on-year basis," Barclays analyst Gayle Berry said.

"I think what that's telling us is that China's appetite for copper is still strong. And our reading of that is that some of it is end-use demand, but also certainly there has been a pickup in financing demand."

Importers in China have been keen to use copper as collateral for short-term loans due to expectations of a cash crunch in the domestic market ahead of the year-end, according to traders in China.

Traders said increased interest by importers had cut the availability of copper in bonded warehouses in Shanghai, pushing buyers to get shipments from the international market.

Reflecting the fragile economic recovery in the West, U.S. growth accelerated in the third quarter as businesses restocked, but the slowest expansion in consumer spending in two years suggested an underlying loss of momentum.

U.S. jobs growth also likely slowed in October as a partial shutdown of the government delayed hiring and forced some workers to stay at home, undermining the economy's fourth-quarter prospects.

In Europe, the European Central Bank cut interest rates to a record low on Thursday and said it could take them lower still to prevent the euro zone's recovery from stalling as inflation tumbles.

In industry news, the London Metal Exchange, aiming to appease critics of its global storage network, has slashed queues for metal, beefed up its powers to act against market abuse and will review its agreement with warehouse owners.

For the week, benchmark LME nickel was the biggest loser, facing a drop of nearly 4 percent. On Thursday it touched its lowest since Oct. 16 at $13,901.

Brazil's Vale confirmed that it was in talks with Glencore Xstrata over cooperation between the mining groups' nickel operations in Canada's Sudbury basin, in an effort to cut costs as prices languish.

Indonesia's ban on shipping unprocessed mineral ore should cut export revenue by no more than 10 percent next year, the country's investment chief said, as the controversial rule is relaxed to limit the impact on Southeast Asia's largest economy.

PRICES

Three month LME copper

Most active ShFE copper

Three month LME aluminium

Most active ShFE aluminium

Three month LME zinc

Most active ShFE zinc

Three month LME lead

Most active ShFE lead

Three month LME nickel

Three month LME tin