METALS-Nickel rebounds as bullish investors go bargain hunting

* Nickel hits highest in a week

* Lead sinks to fresh low (Adds analyst comment, updates prices, changes dateline from MELBOURNE/BEIJING)

LONDON, July 12 (Reuters) - Nickel rebounded by more than 3 percent on Thursday to its highest in a week as investors scrambled to buy at levels they regarded as cheap after steep losses amid fears of a trade war.

The metal, which is used in stainless steel and also as a key ingredient in electric vehicle batteries, shed 14 percent from early June until touching a two-month low on Wednesday.

"Nickel has a strong fundamental story and I think the view of investors was that after a near $2,000 pull-back, it was approaching territory that, irrespective of that macro noise, was an attractive entry point," said Nicholas Snowdon, metals analyst at Deutsche Bank in London.

"This was in particular for the Chinese investor base, where many are hard-core nickel bulls."

Nickel was the biggest gainer on the London Metal Exchange on Thursday, climbing as much as 3.8 percent to $14,410 a tonne, its highest in a week. By 1010 GMT it had pared gains to $14,335, up 3.3 percent.

* COPPER: Three-month LME copper rose 0.7 percent to $6,190 a tonne after steep losses in the previous session took prices down to their weakest since July last year at $6,081.

"We have seen the liquidation of a very large long position in China. With that out of the way, that creates a relatively clean positioning picture," Snowdon said.

* FREEPORT: Gains in copper were capped by concern about rising supply after Indonesia and Freeport-McMoRan Inc struck an initial agreement for state-owned mining company PT Inalum to take a controlling stake in Grasberg, the world's second-biggest copper mine.

"We believe that the agreement will increase the security of copper concentrate supply on the world market," Commerzbank said in a note.

* ESCONDIDA: BHP handed in a proposal for a new labor contract to the union at its Escondida mine in Chile, the world's biggest copper mine. Copper prices had gained earlier in the year on worries about possible strikes affecting major copper operations.

* LEAD: LME lead bucked the broader upward trend, sliding 2.3 percent to $2,148.50 a tonne, its weakest since June 2017.

* RV TRADES: The weakness may have been because of investors unwinding relative-value trades of lead and zinc by selling the former and buying the latter, Marex Spectron's Alastair Munro said in a note.

Ratios and spreads of the two metals are often the basis for trading because they are typically found in the same ore bodies.

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(Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne and Tom Daly in Beijing Editing by David Goodman)