METALS-Copper inches back to 7-month highs in thin trade

(Updates throughout, moves dateline from BEIJING)

LONDON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Copper prices on Monday inched back up towards last week's seven-month high as U.S.-China trade deal and improved economic data lifted some clouds from the demand outlook.

Trading activity was muted ahead of Christmas holidays, with the London Metal Exchange (LME) closed on Dec. 25 and 26.

Benchmark LME copper was up 0.1% at $6,183 a tonne at 1134 GMT and around 5.5% higher this month -- its biggest monthly gain since February.

Yet prices remain far below 2018 highs, before trade disputes battered the global economy.

A lack of macro-economic news this week meant prices were likely to tread water, Chinese brokerage Citic Futures said in a note.

It said demand for copper pipes in China -- the top metals consumer -- had slightly increased and copper bar companies had raised their production rates, although these remained lower than a year ago.

CHINA: Industrial output in China is expected to grow by around 5.6% in 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on Monday. The forecast came after better-than-expected November factory data.

CHINA SCRAP: China's imports of scrap metal in November rose by 6.3% from the previous month to 170,000 tonnes, data showed.

U.S. ECONOMY: U.S. growth rose in the third quarter and the economy was probably maintained its expansion as the year ended, according to figures released on Friday.

TRADE/TARIFFS: China will lower tariffs on products ranging from frozen pork and avocado to some types of semiconductors next year as Beijing looks to boost imports and economic growth.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, said on Saturday the United States and China would "very shortly" sign a 'phase one' trade pact. The deal was agreed earlier this month, lifting metals prices, but its full details have yet to be released.

ALUMINIUM STOCKS: On-warrant aluminium inventories in LME-registered warehouses fell to 1.2 million tonnes after 107,125 tonnes of cancellations. <MALSTX-TOTAL>

LME stockpiles remain high compared to recent norms, but stocks in Shanghai Futures Exchange warehouses have slumped to 193,820 tonnes, the lowest in nearly two years. <AL-STX-SGH>

ALI SPREAD: The discount for cash aluminium versus three-month metal on the LME widened to $25.75, the most since September, pointing to more plentiful nearby supply. <MAL0-3>

PRICE: Benchmark aluminium rose 0.3% to $1,804.50 and touched a six-week high.

INDEX REBALANCING: Commodities tracking funds The Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM) and the S&P GSCI Index (GSCI) are likely to buy zinc and aluminium and sell nickel during their annual rebalancing in early January, Citi analysts said.

OTHER METALS: LME zinc was down 1.2% at $2,312 a tonne, nickel was 0.3% lower at $14,475, lead fell 1.4% to $1,911 and tin slipped 0.3% to 17,285.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson in LONDON and Tom Daly in BEIJING; Editing by)