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METALS-Copper steadies on U.S. data, capped by sluggish growth elsewhere

* U.S. housing, jobs data bolsters economic outlook

* Aluminum spreads relax as stock returns to market

* Global refined copper market in 69,000 T deficit in May -ICSG

* Chinese refined copper imports fall 16 pct in July

(Adds U.S. jobless claims, updates prices)

LONDON, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Copper steadied on Thursday after U.S. data signaled a strengthening economy, but sluggish growth elsewhere in the world kept the metal under pressure.

While the U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in August, business growth in China and across Europe slowed, surveys showed on Thursday, providing more evidence that the world economy is stuttering and may need more monetary stimulus to keep it going.

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange closed at $7,017 a tonne from $7,010 at the close on Wednesday when it jumped 2.1 percent.

"Given the extent of the PMI miss, we think the selling will likely gather steam over the balance of the week," INTL FCStone analyst Edward Meir at wrote in a research note.

"We now have a macro situation where major economies outside of the U.S. are showing increased signs of deceleration. This is not a particularly constructive argument for the bullish case in commodities."

Metals investors were also cautious about selling a day after some were forced to bail out of short positions.

Wednesday's move wrong-footed many bearish investors as stops were hit, forcing them to buy back bets on falling prices.

"In the very short term, yesterday's rally probably made some people sensitive about selling too aggressively today, so there's some caution in the air," said analyst Vivienne Lloyd at Macquarie in London.

But she too expected copper to head lower.

"We think it's going to be lower for the rest of the second half of the year because not only do you have the impact of the Qingdao probe, but you've got a softening environment in China, higher supply and weaker demand growth from this point," Lloyd said.

A 16 percent decline in Chinese refined copper imports in July showed the impact that a probe of suspected fraud at China's Qingdao port was having on metals financing, she added.

China is the world's biggest copper user, accounting for around 40 percent of refined demand, for which housing and its related sectors such as white goods account for more than half.

"On the demand side we see a very soft picture in China. We have concerns about the property market and although we see loosening policies, we don't think that's enough to stimulate demand," Standard Chartered analyst Judy Zhu said in Shanghai.

ALUMINUM ON SHAKY GROUND

More supply was expected after Freeport-McMoRan Inc's Indonesia unit resumed copper concentrate shipments this month after a seven-month hiatus.

The global world refined copper market showed a 69,000 tonne deficit in May, compared with a 186,000 tonne deficit in April, the International Copper Study Group (ICSG) said in its latest monthly bulletin.

Aluminum was $2,061 a tonne at the close from $2,076 at the close on Wednesday, when it hit a 20-month top as reviving consumer demand fights for limited supply.

Paul Adkins at consultancy AZ China said aluminum prices have risen too fast and were likely to retreat. "What is clear is that they (investors) have jumped the gun. Today's flash PMI reinforced that," he told the Reuters Global Base Metals Forum.

"China's economy is by no means a sure bet, and with sectors like housing starts and national grid investment falling off the pace, there's still plenty of shaky ground ahead for aluminum."

More than 100,000 tonnes of aluminum that had been jammed in a queue for delivery out of Vlissingen warehouses returned to stocks, which traders suggested was a party delivering against a short position, given the August expiry. <0#MALSTX-LOC-GRD>

This has relaxed immediate supply stress in the LME aluminum forwards curve. Cash aluminum had traded this week at its narrowest discount of $1.25 against the benchmark since December 2012 but has since eased to $12.

In other metals, tin was $22,200 a tonne from $22,420, zinc was $2,362 a tonne at the close from $2,356, and nickel was $18,825 a tonne from $18,950.

Lead, untraded at the close, was last bid at $2,246.50 a tonne from $2,259

PRICES

Three month LME copper

Most active ShFE copper

Three month LME aluminum

Most active ShFE aluminum

Three month LME zinc

Most active ShFE zinc

Three month LME lead

Most active ShFE lead

Three month LME nickel

Three month LME tin

(Additional reporting by Melanie Burton, editing by Jason Neely and David Evans)