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METALS-London copper steady, underpinned by China post-holiday buying

* China physical copper trades at premium to ShFE front-month

* Alcoa to shut Port Henry smelter in Australia

* Coming Up; 1330 U.S. New York Fed manufacturing

(Adds analyst's comments, updates prices)

SYDNEY, Feb 18 (Reuters) - London copper was steady on Tuesday after gains in the previous two sessions, supported by a post-Lunar New Year pick up in Chinese buying.

Traders are awaiting fresh readings on the pulse of the global manufacturing sector to gauge the demand outlook for the metal. A harsh winter in the United States and Chinese growth that has begun to sputter since late last year have cast a chill on manufacturing activity.

U.S. manufacturing recorded its biggest drop in more than 4-1/2 years in January, as cold weather disrupted production, in the latest indication the economy got off to a weak start this year.

"It seems really the winter weather has its toll on some manufacturing activity and it's not going to go away, with winter conditions seen prolonged into March," said Dominic Schnider, analyst at UBS in Singapore.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was down 0.1 percent at $7,164 a tonne by 0330 GMT. Copper prices hit an intra-day peak of $7,206.50 a tonne on Monday, rebounding from two-month lows near $7,000 touched early this month.

The most-traded April copper contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange edged down 0.2 percent to 50,890 yuan ($8,400) a tonne.

A crank up in Chinese industrial activity into the second quarter against a backdrop of low supplies of refined copper in Western markets could push up global prices, said Schnider.

"Is it possible to see $7,500 in the second quarter? Yes we can," he said.

Reflecting a pick up in demand from China, domestic physical prices have traded back above ShFE front-month prices for the last week, from a discount in the second half of January.

China imported record volumes of copper in January, partly for consumption and partly to ease tight credit conditions. Goldman Sachs sees Chinese bonded inventories at 700,000 tonnes from 550,000 tonnes since the beginning of the year, it said in a note.

The U.S. Federal Reserve's stimulus tapering and China's slowdown, twin factors behind this year's emerging market sell-off, will come firmly into view in the week ahead with minutes from the former and a leading survey on the latter.

U.S. markets will reopen on Tuesday after being closed for the Presidents' Day holiday on Monday which may help trading volumes recover and aid in setting direction. A preliminary estimate of China's manufacturing health is due on Thursday.

In the aluminium sector, producer Alcoa Inc said it would close its Point Henry smelter and two rolling mills in Australia, underscoring the dire market conditions facing producers amid a flood of new Chinese capacity.

Miner BHP Billiton topped market forecasts with a 31 percent rise in first-half profit on Tuesday, but held back from any big capital return to investors for at least another six months.

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 = 6.0641 Chinese yuan)

(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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