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METALS-LME lead hits 33-month low on deepening trade war

Eric Onstad

* GRAPHIC-2019 asset returns: http://tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl (Updates with official prices)

LONDON, May 13 (Reuters) - Lead prices sunk to the lowest in nearly three years on Monday on worries that industrial metals demand would suffer from renewed U.S.-Chinese trade tensions.

Aluminum saw the lightest losses after reports of reduced supply of raw material alumina from China.

Metals slid along with other financial markets after the trade war between the world's top two economies ratcheted up a gear and China said it planned to set import tariffs against $60 billion worth of U.S.goods.

"Trade frictions weigh on future demand expectations so you're naturally going to get caution on asset allocations for commodities on the whole and base metals in particular," said Colin Hamilton, director of commodities research at BMO Capital.

Lead was the hardest hit partly because seasonally this was the weakest period for lead demand while recycled supply was healthy, Hamilton added.

Benchmark lead on the London Metal Exchange dropped 1.2% to $1,801 a tonne in official open outcry trading, its lowest since Aug. 9, 2016.

* CHINESE ALUMINA: Alumina output would be curtailed in China's Shanxi province due to environmental issues, according to reports. "To me, it looks like that's going to take out about 4% of Chinese alumina capacity," Hamilton said.

* ALUMINIUM PRICE: Reduced alumina supply and higher prices for the raw material to make aluminum helped to cushion losses for three-month aluminum, which dipped 0.4% to trade at$1,800 a tonne in official rings.

* COPPER PRICES: LME copper, untraded in rings, was bid down 1% at $6,067 a tonne after touching $6,022, the weakest since Jan. 29. The net speculative short position on the LME had expanded to 2.1% of open interest, back to levels not seen since late January, Alastair Munro at broker Marex Spectron said in a note.

* COPPER SMELTER MAINTENANCE: Copper prices could gain some support from falling output in China as some smelters there are scheduled to go into maintenance in May, said copper analyst He Tianyu of metal consultants CRU.

* COPPER DEFICIT: The copper market should see a deficit of 189,000 tonnes this year, widening to 250,000 tonnes in 2020, the International Copper Study Group said.

* CHINA CARS: Also weighing on metals prices was data showing that vehicle sales in China, the world's top auto market, fell 14.6% in April annually, marking the 10th consecutive month of decline.

* OTHER PRICES: LME zinc was bid down 1.3% to $2,595 a tonne, the lowest since Feb. 15, nickel shed 1.4% to $11,760 and tin was bid 1.7% lower at $19,300.

* For the top stories in metals and other news, click or ($1 = 6.8641 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen in Singapore; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)