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METALS-Copper falls as slumping China auto sales signal weak demand

Peter Hobson

(Updates with official prices)

LONDON, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Copper prices dipped on Wednesday after a sharp fall in Chinese auto sales underlined fears of weaker demand from the world's largest consumer of metals.

Concerns over China's economic outlook outweighed any optimism from a decision by Beijing to exempt some U.S. goods from additional tariffs, potentially easing tensions in a damaging trade dispute.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) did not trade in official rings but was bid down 0.6% at $5,793 a tonne, moving towards a two-year low of $5,518 hit earlier this month.

Unless a U.S.-China trade deal is reached, prices will likely remain around current levels as weaker demand is offset by constraints on supply, said Saxo Bank analyst Ole Hansen.

"We've seen the bottom for copper for this year," he said.

CHINA CARS: China's total auto sales fell 6.9% from the same month a year earlier to 1.96 million, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said, warning of weak sales ahead.

The figures follow a string of weak Chinese manufacturing data. China has made some moves to stimulate activity including a cut to bank reserve requirements announced last week.

CHINA OUTPUT: Refined copper cathode production by major Chinese smelters fell by 0.5% in August from a month earlier, a survey by research house Antaike showed.

PERU: An indefinite strike by mining unions in Peru that started on Tuesday has failed to draw large numbers of workers and not affected output at mines in the world's No.2 copper, zinc, and silver producer, an industry association said.

NICKEL: LME nickel traded up 0.8% at $18,180 a tonne, as the premium for cash metal over the three-month contract surged back towards ten-year highs above $100 reached in late August, pointing to tighter nearby supply. <MNI0-3>

Nickel leaped to a five-year high of $18,850 this month after top supplier Indonesia said it would ban ore exports next year.

STOCKS: On-warrant stocks of nickel available to the market in LME-registered warehouses fell to 83,346 tonnes, down from around 250,000 tonnes at the start of 2018 and the lowest since 2011. <MNISTX-TOTAL>

One entity holds between 80% and 89% of warrants. <0#LME-WHL>

PHILIPPINES: Nickel miners in the Philippines are likely to ramp up ore output by next year, but their production capacity is limited, a local industry lobby group said.

The Philippines' mining watchdog meanwhile recommended lifting the suspension of a small-sized nickel miner.

LEAD: China's primary lead output rose 3.6% year-on-year to 242,000 tonnes in August, while recycled lead production was up 9.1% year-on-year at 196,000 tonnes, Antaike said.

Benchmark lead was bid up 0.2% at $2,104 a tonne in official rings.

OTHER METALS: LME aluminum traded up 0.1% at $1,822 a tonne, zinc traded 1.2% higher at $2,365 and tin traded down 0.4% at $17,325.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; additional reporting by Tom Daly; editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Alexander Smith)