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METALS-Copper falls to lowest since June 2017 as trade war escalates

Peter Hobson

(Updates with closing prices)

LONDON, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Copper prices fell to the lowest in more than two years as an escalating trade conflict between China and the United States, faltering Chinese economic growth and a weakening yuan undermined the outlook for demand.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) closed down 0.9% at $5,632 after touching $5,624.50, the lowest since June 2017.

It was down nearly 2% over the week and more than 20% from a peak in June last year.

Capital Economics analyst Ross Strachan said prices were unlikely to keep falling.

"We are expecting (copper) mine production to fall slightly this year," he said. "You don't need a lot of demand growth if you're in that situation, so I think we are well supported at these levels."

TRADE WAR: China said it will impose retaliatory tariffs on about $75 billion worth of U.S. goods, ramping up a dispute that has weakened growth in China, the world's biggest metals buyer, and beyond.

President Donald Trump responded by saying U.S. companies should "immediately start looking for an alternative to China".

MARKETS/YUAN: Global stocks fell alongside oil prices and U.S. bond yields, while China's yuan weakened to a fresh 11-1/2 year low against the dollar.

The weaker yuan makes metals priced in the U.S. currency more expensive for Chinese buyers, potentially damaging demand.

CHINA SCRAP: China's imports of scrap metal in July dived by 27.5% from the previous month to 290,000 tonnes, the lowest monthly total since March.

NICKEL: LME nickel ended unchanged at $15,660 a tonne but was down about 3% this week, eating into a rally that had pushed up prices of the stainless steel ingredient by around $4,000.

"Speculated supply disruptions from Indonesia have not materialised yet, whilst the demand side continues to face pressure as margins for stainless steel producers take a hit," ING analysts said, predicting further price falls.

However, LME cash nickel has flipped to a $63 premium against the three-month contract -- the highest in a decade --from a $90 discount at the start of July, pointing to tighter nearby supply. <MNI0-3>

ALUMINIUM: Analysts at Wood Mackenzie said output cuts in China would widen a deficit in China to 1 million tonnes and globally to 1.4 million tonnes, which they said could push prices above $1,800 a tonne.

China Hongqiao, the world's biggest aluminium producer, on Friday cut its 2019 production guidance by up to 300,000 tonnes, or almost 5%.

About 64 million tonnes of the metal were produced globally last year.

LME aluminium did not trade in closing rings but was bid up 0.2% at $1,769.50 a tonne, down 1.3% over the week.

OTHER METALS: Benchmark tin closed down 1.9% at $15,900, notching up an 11th straight week of losses. Zinc gained 0.4% to $2,254 and lead rose 0.5% to $2,068.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; additional reporting by Mai Nguyen Editing by Susan Fenton/ David Goodman and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)