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METALS-Copper steadies as dollar dips vs euro, investors await data

Susan Thomas and Melanie Burton
Tuesday, 7 Jan 2014 | 7:52 AM ET

* Indonesia nickel ore miner halts operations ahead of export ban

* Comex copper speculators raise longs to near 2-year high

* Euro rises versus dollar after euro zone inflation data

(Updates prices, adds comment)

LONDON/SYDNEY, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Copper steadied on Tuesday above the two-week lows it hit on Monday, helped by a weaker dollar versus the euro although the market was quiet as traders focused on U.S. data due later this week.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was $7,337 a tonne by 1237 GMT from $7,325 at the close on Monday when it hit its lowest since Dec. 24 at $7,278.75 a tonne.

But the market was still sluggish early in the first full week of trade after the Christmas and New Year holidays, and market focus was on U.S. non-farm payrolls data and minutes of the Federal Reserve's December policy meeting, Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Ava Trade in Dublin, said.

"We are going to look at the FOMC minutes very closely, and we think that will bring a lot of volatility to the market for the dollar," Aslam said.

In December, outgoing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke started the process of navigating the U.S. central bank's way out of its extraordinary stimulus, beginning with shaving its bond-buying programme.

"We want to see how other Fed members supported (Bernanke)in this view. If they did then there will be strong rally in the dollar, which would be bearish for copper," Aslam said

A stronger U.S. currency makes it more expensive for foreign investors to purchase dollar-priced commodities, thus pressuring prices lower. The euro rose versus the dollar on Tuesday after data showed euro zone inflation fell last month.

The Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) minutes will be released on Wednesday and the non-farm payrolls numbers on Friday.

But prospects that 2014 may bring improving global economic fortunes have begun to feed investor interest in copper.

"People are a little more excited about global growth," said analyst Sijin Cheng of Barclays in Singapore.

"U.S. growth seems a lot more sure-footed than a few months ago, China is stabilising ... there is a bit of macro (fund) interest in using copper to express a more positive view."

Speculative investors increased their net copper longs for a third consecutive week in the week to Dec. 31, data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed, climbing by 6,147 contracts to 35,635, the highest in nearly two years.

Still, prospects for refined copper supply growth are likely to keep a lid on the rally, Barclays' Cheng added.

"We think that this quarter could be the high point for prices for 2014," she said.

New mine supply and lucrative fees for smelters to process copper are set to expand the global market surplus by 60 percent this year, an industry group said in December.

Elsewhere, Singapore's Ibris Nickel Pte Ltd said on Tuesday it had temporarily stopped operations at its 2-million-tonne-per-year nickel mine in Indonesia, amid uncertainty surrounding a planned ban on unprocessed metal ore exports.

From Jan. 12, mining companies must process their ore before shipping it overseas under a measure which aims to boost the value of exports from Indonesia, the world's top exporter of nickel ore, thermal coal and refined tin, and a major exporter of copper concentrate.

LME nickel prices fell 0.4 percent to $13,502 per tonne on Tuesday from $13,560 at the close on Monday. However, the nickel market is in surplus and the price has more than halved since 2011.

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

(Editing by Keiron Henderson)