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METALS-London copper falls to near two week lows; China worries drag

Melanie Burton
Monday, 6 Jan 2014 | 3:03 AM ET

* Cash copper trades at $15 premium to benchmark

* Shanghai bonded copper premiums drop to $170-$195-Shmet

* Coming up: German PMI for December 0853 GMT

(Adds detail, updates prices)

SYDNEY, Jan 6 (Reuters) - London copper slipped on Monday to its lowest in nearly two weeks as concern about economic momentum in China and new restrictions on the country's shadow banking sector dragged on prices.

Copper, which lost about 7 percent in 2013, is down about one percent so far this year despite expectations that restocking by Chinese factories ahead of Lunar new year in late January would support prices.

Economic growth in China had been expected to broaden out to smaller-to-mid size industry from large state owned enterprises, said analyst Dominic Schnider of UBS Wealth Management in Singapore, potentially lifting metals demand.

"But that received a blow from last week's PMI numbers, so now everyone has put expectations of recovery on hold," he said.

Still, a gradual ramp-up in Europe and the United States could be enough to drive up copper prices by as much as 5 percent in the first half, he added.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange fell its lowest since Dec. 24 at $7,295 a tonne on Monday. It traded down 0.1 percent $7,305 a tonne by 0725 GMT from the previous session when it fell 1.1 percent.

The most-traded March copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange slipped 0.7 percent to close at 51,770 yuan ($8,600) a tonne, touching its lowest since Dec. 25.

Growth in China's services industries slowed in December, a pair of surveys showed, mirroring a slowdown in manufacturing and confirming views that the world's second-largest economy lost steam at the end of last year.

China accounts for the bulk of global refined copper demand.

Also denting sentiment, China's cabinet issued new rules to strengthen regulation of the shadow-bank lending that has helped fuel an explosion in debt levels since 2008, in the latest effort to address growing financial risks.

Traders in China typically import metal to obtain credit, selling the metal for cash on the domestic market to reinvest in higher yielding assets such as real estate, with fears of a year-end cash crunch fanning appetite for imports.

New restrictions on lending could drag on import demand.

Reflecting a softening in appetite for physical copper, Shanghai bonded copper premiums slipped around $10 to $170-$195 from $180-$205 on Dec. 17, according to China price provider Shmet. (http://www.shmet.com/)

Still, financing demand for now remains solid, given cash copper and cash zinc remain at a premium to their benchmark contracts, although below peaks seen in December.

Cash copper traded at a $15.50 premium to the benchmark contract on Friday while cash zinc traded at $9.50 against the three-months, up from discounts of around $7 and $20 respectively in late November. <CMCU0-3> <CMZN0-3>

Muddying the demand outlook for metals, the U.S. Federal Reserve now appears deep in debate over the best way to unwind its extraordinary stimulus in the months and years ahead.

The gradual drawing back of cheap money has dented prices of metals by reducing the pool of liquidity available to industry and investors and by driving up the dollar. Metals, priced in dollars, become more expensive for holders of other currencies when the greenback appreciates.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is no less committed to highly accommodative policy now that it has trimmed its bond-buying stimulus, Ben Bernanke said on Friday.

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

($1 = 6.0515 Chinese yuan)

($1 = 6.0515 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Richard Pullin)