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CORRECTED-METALS-Copper suffers biggest fall in 3 weeks on Fed taper

Julia Fioretti
Thursday, 19 Dec 2013 | 8:38 PM ET

(Corrects 15th paragraph to say LME copper stocks at 383,925 tonnes)

* Investors prefer stocks to commodities, inflation risk low

* Australia zinc mine to miss start date

* Tightness in copper's cash to 3-month spread eases

LONDON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Copper dipped on Thursday, slipping further from near two-month highs hit this week as investors digested the U.S. central bank's decision to trim its stimulus programme.

The U.S. Federal Reserve ended months of market speculation by deciding to cut its monthly bond purchases by $10 billion to $75 billion on Wednesday, and sought to temper the move by recommitting to rock-bottom interest rates.

"In the long run the Fed move is positive for the U.S. currency and this would limit the upside for the dollar-denominated base metals and deter rallies," VTB Capital analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov said.

"This, coupled with some pre-holiday profit-taking, is pulling copper down."

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) fell almost 1 percent to close at $7,201 a tonne from a previous close at $7,270, its biggest drop in nearly three weeks.

While the base metals complex was struggling to find comfort in the Fed's more upbeat view, equities markets in Europe, Asia and the United States rallied.

U.S. stocks, however, pared some of Wednesday's gains on Thursday following a mixed set of data.

"Investors believe the risk of inflation is still very low and therefore it makes no sense to have commodities in their portfolio - they prefer shares, which also bear dividends," said T-commodity consultant Gianclaudio Torlizzi.

"The gold selloff, for example, highlights expectations of deflation."

Gold, often bought as an inflation hedge, slid 2 percent on Thursday to its lowest since late June.

Copper touched $7,307.70 a tonne on Monday, its highest since Oct. 23 on a pickup in global factory activity and a near-term shortage of refined metal.

The metal is down about 10 percent on the year.

SUPPLY TIGHTNESS UNDERPINS ZINC

Low availability of physical material for nearby delivery had supported copper in the last few days, pushing its forward curve into a steeper backwardation - the premium paid for cash over three-month copper. <CMCU0-3>

On Thursday, however, the cash-to-three-month spread had eased significantly to about $4 a tonne, coming off the 19-month high of $30 hit on Monday.

Copper stocks in LME-monitored warehouses fell 1,025 tonnes to 383,925 tonnes, latest exchange data showed.

Most market participants expect more supply to come on stream next year, although forecasts differ and many point out that an economic recovery should provide a floor to prices by boosting demand.

"I don't see the kind of surpluses that are being forecasted by many people in the market," Natixis analyst Nic Brown said.

"If anything, the potential is for a bit of an upside surprise in copper prices given that the market is pricing a more significant surplus than we think is likely to emerge."

Zinc closed at $1,989.50 from $1,991, down from a nine-month high of $2,010 a tonne on Wednesday.

Zinc supply is tight and China's MMG Ltd said a new zinc mine in Australia would miss its startup date because of technical issues, potentially triggering a global pinch.

"The zinc fundamentals are gradually improving," Brown said.

"Although some of them (miners) are looking to replace lost capacity, there certainly aren't the financial incentives and the urgency to replace that capacity that maybe there ought to be."

Aluminium closed at $1,773.50 a tonne, down from its previous close of $1,798, and lead finished at $2,174 from $2,183.

Tin closed at $22,850, down from its previous close at $22,910 while nickel finished at $14,190 a tonne, higher than its previous close at $14,135.

Three month LME copper CMCU3

Most active ShFE copper SCFcv1

Three month LME aluminium CMAL3

Most active ShFE aluminium SAFcv1

Three month LME zinc CMZN3

Most active ShFE zinc SZNcv1

Three month LME lead CMPB3

Most active ShFE lead SPBcv1

Three month LME nickel CMNI3

Three month LME tin CMSN3

(Additional reporting by Silvia Antonioli in Rome; Editing by William Hardy)