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METALS-Shanghai aluminum hits 7-month high on worries of supply shortage

Mai Nguyen

(Recasts, adds comments and updates prices)

SINGAPORE, May 16 (Reuters) - Shanghai aluminum futures prices on Thursday hit their highest since October 2018 on worries over a supply shortage, following a refinery shutdown in China - the world's top aluminum maker.

Xinfa Group, one of China's biggest aluminum smelters, is closing all production lines on its 2.8-million-tonne-per-year alumina refinery in Shanxi amid an environmental dispute, while it is still unclear how long the plant would be closed for.

The most active aluminum contract on the Shanghai Futures Exchange rose 0.5% to 14,395 yuan ($2,093.39) a tonne, on track for its fifth straight session of gains. The contract edged up 0.2% by midday of Asian trading hours.

Alumina is a substance used to make aluminum.

"Alumina price has increased a lot this week and likely to remain high, which gives support to the aluminum price. Mid-term demand will still be a key factor worth-monitoring," said analyst Jackie Wang of metals consultants CRU based in China.

While all Shanghai metals rose following an overnight rally in London, sentiment on the London Metal Exchange was cautious for most metals after China released weaker-than-expected retail sales and industrial output data for April.

The figures for April largely pointed to a loss of momentum, after surprisingly upbeat March readings had raised hopes the economy was slowly getting back onto a firmer footing and would require less policy support.

An expected U.S. decision to delay imposing tariffs on imported cars and parts helped sentiment.

FUNDAMENTALS

* Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange was down 0.2% at $6,071 a tonne, as of 0405 GMT, while aluminum dropped 0.3% and nickel was trading 0.4% lower.

* Shanghai copper rose 0.4% to 47,790 yuan a tonne, nickel was up 1.2%, zinc advanced 0.9%, lead increased 1.3% and tin edged 0.4% higher.

* CODELCO: State miner Codelco, the world's top copper producer, said on Wednesday it has agreed on a new labor contract with the union of supervisors at its small Salvador mine in northern Chile.

* U.S. COPPER: The U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday renewed two long-mothballed leases in Minnesota, a key step in opening up the area to copper mining despite heavy opposition from local and conservation groups.

* MEXICO: Mexico is close to resolving its dispute with the United States over steel and aluminum tariffs without quotas but hopes Canada can reach a similar agreement before completing it, a senior Mexican official said on Wednesday.

* For the top stories in metals and other news, click or

MARKETS NEWS

* Asian shares steadied on news that U.S. President Donald Trump is planning to delay tariffs on auto imports, providing much needed relief to markets hit by a flare-up in trade tensions and on weak U.S. and Chinese economic data.

DATA/EVENTS (GMT)

0130 Australia Employment April

0130 Australia Unemployment Rate April

1230 US Housing Starts number April

1230 US Initial Jobless Claims weekly

-- Indonesia 7-Day Reverse Repo May

-- Indonesia Deposit Facility Rate May

-- Indonesia Lending Facility Rate May

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

Most active ShFE nickel

Three month LME tin

Most active ShFE tin

ARBS ($1 = 6.8764 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Richard Pullin and Sherry Jacob-Phillips)